What really is going on at Arsenal? We were told by various fan groups that the club had nothing much to spend last summer. Fans campaigned to get rid of Mr Wenger, and so he went. Then they campaigned to get rid of Mr Emery, so he went. There was a demand to “spend some fucking money” so £137,000,000 was spent. And Arsenal are now doing worse than at any time in the last quarter of a century.
Meanwhile the records show that that top six spending clubs of last summer are all doing much the same as, or worse, than last year, despite all the money they have spent. I repeat “What’s going on?”
To understand this let’s go back to 29 September 2007, the day on which Arsenal beat West Ham away 0-1. It was one match in a wonderful run that had Arsenal at the top of the table.
The discussion in the build-up to the game concerned a revelation that the late Danny Fiszman had asked Arsène Wenger what he’d do if the club gave him £100 million to spend on players.
Mr Wenger replied, “I’d hand it back.” Arsenal.com quoted Mr Wenger as saying, “I said that because I think I would ruin the work I have done in the last five years. You develop players and, just in the last minute, you put £30 million into a player who is not necessary better than the ones you have, just to keep everybody saying ‘oh, have you seen Arsenal, they’ve bought a super player’.
“There might come a time when I need to put my hands on it and I say ‘listen we need to put the money in for one special player who could give us a plus’. But I don’t see this player at the moment anywhere.
“Take Ronaldinho, maybe one year ago he was the best player in the world. Is he today? No. What people have problems to accept in football, like tennis, you can be No 1 in March and No 10 in November.
“You have to trust your judgement knowing you will make mistakes. I always say you have to be relaxed about that and smiling knowing that you have a bomb in the right hand and a hand grenade in your left and that it can explode in your face because you were wrong.”
It was a clear insight into Mr Wenger’s approach. But it was an approach hated by the media because it gave no story to the storytellers, the media men and women who most certainly are not disinterested observers. For the media – from the smallest blog to Sky Sports, from Football.London with its 50 Arsenal tales a day fed by the Mirror group to every local radio station – depends on transfer rumours to give it something to talk about.
And this indeed is the problem because most of what we know about football is filtered through the words of a group of people whose job is to make up enough stories to fill their articles and commentaries.
To understand the daily news about Arsenal we need to think of three levels of activity. On one level, we have a football club that would like to be winning trophies. A very reasonable idea.
On the second level Arsenal have the daily issues to deal with – decisions on tactics, injuries, possible transfers, lack of form, illness, players’ mental health, luck, and the activities of the opposition. So matters and issues can change and if reflected that would mean an ever changing agenda – which the media hate because they believe it confuses the readers and viewers.
So on the third level all of that interesting stuff about Arsenal’s decision making is filtered by the media, who have their own agenda which involves keeping everything simple (ideally so it can be told in 50 words while not losing the readers’ attention), keeping it cheap (the media hates spending money on research when it can make things up for free) and consistent (ie the same story that everyone else is running.)
Now almost everything we think we know about Arsenal comes through journalists. And I exclude most bloggers here because they just quote journalists. There are no real original open or named sources which are right at the centre of things. We are dependent on these people to be in the know. Maybe they are, maybe they are not. I guess probably not since their ability to predict anything is around a 3% accuracy level. Sometimes less.
So the broadcasters and the print media are dependent on information being handed out by the clubs, who are hardly disinterested observers, and on what each other can make up – which they all then report as if fact – while in certain areas they are controlled as to what they can say or show, because of agreements made with clubs, the Leagues and others. If the reporters move outside of the agreements they lose their rights to attend press conferences, broadcast games, sit in the press area at the ground etc.