An Untold media accuracy review by Tony Attwood
It’s a very shouty headline, exactly the headline that the Mail likes.
“MARTIN SAMUEL: Everything that looked wrong at Arsenal WAS wrong… and that includes Unai Emery’s appointment. Under Stan Kroenke they’ve become a selling club so why will it be any different for Mikel Arteta?”
The message is also very Daily Mail, in that it not only tells us that Arsenal’s past was a disaster, but that the disaster is so great it is affecting the club now and will continue to do so for a long time to come.
Plus the methodology of delivery (the shouty bullet points and selective analysis which singles out Arsenal but does not compare with any other club) is itself very Daily Mail. In short this is a perfect example of AAA propaganda, of the type that most clubs do not face. Indeed the bullet points section at the top of the article even manages to link Arsenal directly to the virus.
- Unai Emery confirmed all the things we suspected Arsenal were getting wrong
- The worry is so many of issues revisited by Emery remain unresolved even now
- Biggest problem facing any Arsenal boss is the fact they are now a selling club
- Coronavirus suspension highlighted just how frail Arsenal’s finances really are
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
Two issues arise. One is to see whether any of what is stated in the article is actually true, and the other is why have they chosen to single out Arsenal in this way. The answers will tell us a lot about the state of football journalism in general and the Daily Mail v Arsenal in particular.
“He did not get the players he wanted, the support he wanted from the board, Mesut Ozil turned up when he felt like it, Aaron Ramsey shouldn’t have been allowed to leave and the players, even the famous captaincy group, were often mentally weak.
“Unai Emery’s first interview since leaving Arsenal contrived to be absolutely fascinating, yet wholly predictable.
“The words were compelling because they came from the man who was at the eye of the storm. Yet what he said, the problems he identified, the mistakes that were made, had all been detailed in real time.
“Everything it was said Arsenal were getting wrong, Arsenal got wrong. Emery confirmed it all.
“Poor player recruitment? Tick. Dilettante stars? Tick. Feeble management? Tick. Mistake after mistake after mistake? Tick and tick and tick.”
Five paragraphs of assertion, without evidence and with comparison, and thus meaningless. But having made the point the article’s next sentence takes all that to be true and says, “It has been that way for too many years now.”
This approach of unrelated statements made without comparison to other relevant examples, and without any evidence, is an approach which one can find in other areas of false debate, such as the statements made by racists, conspiracy theorists and far-right extremists. None of which makes Mr Sammuel any of these things but which does raise the question: if Mr Sammuel has a reasonable case to make, why make it using the methodology of the most discredited sectors of our society?
Also included are the selective examples. The point is made that Mr Wenger used to get it right, then he got it wrong – as with the recruitment of Emmanuel Petit, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry (all fantastic players) compared with Calum Chambers, Lucas Perez, Gabriel and Shkodran Mustafi.
But Mr Wenger recruited players throughout who didn’t quite make it. Every manager does. In 2002 he brought in Cygan, Gilberto Silva, Shaaban, and Wamuz. We remember one out of four. We may, as supporters, not like the way that having been turned into star players by Mr Wenger, Fabregas and van Persie left to get more money, but that was hardly Wenger’s fault. The club engaged in the stadium project and following their decisions it had to be paid for.
The allegation is then made that Arsenal now only buy players in order to resell them. But again, that was what happened to Mr Wenger – again to pay for the stadium. Bergkamp (not bought by Mr Wenger) played to retirement, but Vieira, Henry, Anelka, Overmars etc etc, were all sold at a profit. And interestingly never again achieved the heights they had reached with Arsenal.
Of course, for many of the Mail’s allegations we have no evidence and no background, we have to take the word of the author, and when from the off the word of the author is misleading, to say the least, it is reasonable to be dubious.
The article says, “After losing heavily in the Europa League final to Chelsea last season, Emery booked individual meetings with his players for the following day. Ozil did not bother to show. Why does that not surprise?”
How do we know it is true that he didn’t turn up? How do we know that it was a case of not bothering, rather than there being a reason? How do we know, with the level of inaccuracy there is in this piece, that there was a meeting at all?
So when the article continues, “The worry for Arsenal is that so many of the problems revisited with Emery remain unresolved even now,” we might replace that with “The worry for our democracy is that here we have a popular newspaper providing no evidence of any kind in a story the prime function of which seems to be to damage the name of a football club.”
Much of the problem, as with so many publications today is that there is a profound disconnect within the piece itself (which the Mail attempts to hide with its multiple headlines and random words in bold). Such as “For years we have heard that Arsenal are a club that is run properly. That it has not bought success like interlopers such as Chelsea and Manchester City.”
Two simple sentences that ignore the fact that Chelsea and Man C have had vast fortunes poured into them by owners. And the fact that Man C have been banned from Europe for two years because of its methodology. Or that Chelsea have now abandoned their stadium project. Details that somehow do seem relevant.
After this the whole piece descends into statements that don’t even try to hide behind some sort of truth. “Biggest issue facing any Arsenal boss is that they’ve become a selling club under Stan Kroenke.” No, Arsenal were a selling club all the way through because of the decision to make it profitable while building the new stadium.
The piece then turns to Aubameyang wanting to leave saying, “His people will have noted the career paths of former Arsenal players such as Alexis Sanchez, Robin van Persie, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ramsey. Most clubs have to sell in some circumstances, yet Arsenal consistently lose players to Premier League rivals, too. Just because Sanchez’s move to Manchester United proved a dismal failure, does not make it a positive move for Arsenal?”
In answer to the first question, selling Alexis Sanchez was most certainly the right thing to do as anyone who watched him would testify. But beyond that the evidence does not support this. Of the four examples, one was a flop when sold, one was a success for 18 months (enough to get Sir Alex his final league title before he retired, but on an eye-watering five-year contract as his career petered out), one had persistent injury problems making him a significant risk and one didn’t go to a rival at all.
There are of course issues at Arsenal, as there are indeed in most clubs. Chelsea have the canceled stadium project and an owner who seems to be less interested, Man United have owners who are able to, and do, extract massive dividends whether the club is making or (as now) losing money at a mega rate, Man City have an owner who is in direct conflict with Uefa, and are facing a two-year ban from Europe, Leicester City have multiple questions arising concerning the way they are treated by referees as seen in the tackle / foul / card analysis, Wolverhampton have already spent next season’s first TV payment…
And let us reserve a paragraph just for Tottenham – unmentioned in the Mail’s rant. The Emirates Stadium cost £390m. The Tottenham H stadium cost £1 billion. And that has been borrowed at the interest rates that existed before the coronavirus struck. And repayments were predicated on the basis of games this season onwards, plus American football. Do you want to see a club worthy of a piece of serious economic investigative journalism, then it is Tottenham. But what do we get? A rancid assault on Arsenal using a series of extremely dubious, disconnected, illogical and factually incorrect statements.
That the article is there is not a surprise. That it uses journalistic techniques regularly found in Germany in the 1930s is not a surprise either. That there is nothing about any of the issues the other clubs mentioned above are facing is par for the course. But it is still worthy of note.
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