Are the referees and the media really out to get Arsenal, or am I just imagining it?

By Tony Attwood

“Nine Arsenal players have been sent off since Arteta’s first game in charge on Boxing Day 2019, five more than any other side.”

That note appeared on the BBC’s website prior to the Aston Villa defeat, and was quickly picked up by a range of other sites.  The implication was clear: Arteta is sending out physical teams with the instruction to intimidate or even hurt the opposition and the referees are thankfully doing their job.

Yet the sentence doesn’t actually tell us this exactly, because it doesn’t explore what lies behind this statistic.  Is it that Arsenal has become a very dirty team, for example?  Or are they simply playing in a way that leads referees to penalize them more?  Or come to that, are refs treating Arsenal unfairly.

Or could it be more subtle than that?  For example, might it be that because the media falsely focuses on Arsenal being a team out of control, they now get treated more harshly by referees?  That would not be to say the referees deliberately go out to book Arsenal players, but rather a tackle that might be a ticking off gets a yellow because it is Arsenal.  And a second foul that again might or might not be a yellow, gets a second yellow which turns into a red.

In short, could it be that media attention makes fans, referees, and journalists consider Arsenal in a particular way; a way that influences subsequent events?  And might that “Nine Arsenal players” headline actually have far less meaning than it appears at first sight?

To answer this let’s try a bit more context by examining the facts behind that BBC headline…

Season Arsenal Red Cards Highest club excluding Arsenal Next club
2020/21 5 3  (Brighton) 3 (Fulham)
2019/20 5 4  (Manchester City) 4 (Southampton)
2018/19 2 5  (Leicester) 4 (Brighton)
2017/18 2 5  (Leicester) 4 (Chelsea)

Seen that way the figures don’t look particularly exceptional.  No more exceptional than Leicester being the top red card club for two seasons running or Brighton turning up in second place twice.  Yes, Arsenal’s figures could become exceptional if Arsenal get another five reds before the end of the season, but a quick scan of the data suggests that red cards come in bunches, rather than being spread out through the season so that seems unlikely.

And we haven’t yet considered the reason for the red cards.  We tend to think of red card as being given for serious foul play but that was hardly the case with Leno… so could there be more behind these numbers than the simplistic headline the BBC provided?

Besides which we’ve never had a season like this without crowds, and with away teams winning more than home teams.  It is certainly possible that by the end of the season another team will be top of the red card list, and that the number of red cards this season might be far and away above the average for previous seasons.   A notion which in turn reminds us that the simplistic headline doesn’t give us any context.

But above everything else our view of red cards tends to be fixed by views such as those expressed by the “How they play” website which speaks of certain players “amassing red cards, affecting results, causing injury, destroying the sporting spirit, and tarnishing the image of the beautiful game.”

But contrary to this view, the handing out of red cards varies enormously.  In 2014/15 Premier League matches saw 71 red cards while 2017/18 saw refs give only 39 cards.  Was the 2014/15 season 182% dirtier than 2014/15?  Or did referees in the PL change their interpretation of the rules in order to cut down on the number of reds being handed out?   Certainly something happened because the number of reds has never reached anything like that height since then.

In short, what happens in football reporting is that numbers are used without any comparison or explanation.  Wouldn’t it, for example, also be helpful, to see where Arsenal are in the yellow card league table this season after the Aston Villa match?  We are in fact 8th which again makes the red card figure look rather odd.

Or what about fouls?   If Arsenal are so dirty as to get this preposterous number of red cards, surely Arsenal must be top of the league table calculated by the number of fouls committed?  Actually no, we are 19th.  Only one club has committed fewer fouls.

In fact Manchester United have so far this season committed 68 more fouls than Arsenal.  Isn’t that worth mentioning in an article that totals Arsenal’s red cards?  Well, obviously not, given that I haven’t seen any mention of that fact.   So maybe we should ask why the yellow card total isn’t mentioned.  Is it because it knocks Man U, and Man U have more supporters dotted around the world than any other English team?  Is it that “dirty Arsenal” is a story, but “dirty Man U” isn’t?

My point is that news is selected to fit an existing agenda.   Which raises the question: is there an agenda always to show Arsenal in a bad light?  And if there is such an agenda why does that agenda exist, and where come from?  After that we might ask, does the anti-Arsenal agenda, if there is one, actually have an effect on the way Arsenal play?  Does it make referees treat them in a different way?  Does it make players less likely to want to transfer to Arsenal?

I don’t think these thoughts have ever been properly explored, and I think it is time to do so – after all this is the media;s agenda, and they are hardly likely to question themselves.   So this is what I shall do in a short series of articles that follow.  I hope you find them interesting, and that they will help shine a little light on a very murky subject.

Episode 2 will appear shortly.  Meanwhile here are a few stories on this subject from the past

9 Replies to “Are the referees and the media really out to get Arsenal, or am I just imagining it?”

  1. May be the unbeaten record is still paining some club owners who are secretly paying bribes for reefs to keep purnishing Arsenal other wise why always Arsenal? in almost every game whether we win it or not there must be some fault against us which is not properly justified.

  2. EPL should do some thing about what is happening other wise this is going to damage the image of EPL in the world of football where by some countries FA will start to frustrate transfer’s of good players who would need to do there trade in EPL which could be developmental to EPL clubs.

  3. PGMOL is somewhat of an arrogant organisation. It has been since its inception, as bountiful evidence has shown, much of which has been highlighted on UA for a number of years. No apparent transparency! No apparent monitoring of performance; no apparent open system of appeal other than through the auspices of the highly influential FA and the wealth of the Premier League. Now, a number of blogs have highlighted the current performances of different referees and the associated inconsistencies of their performance. This is interesting since if Arsenal followers who are not professional members of sport football can see some of the problems of the PGMOL, why not the professional members of sport football themselves? Perhaps these professional members, (as I call them), do recognise the associated problems with the PGMOL, but have different agendas!

    Mr Wenger appeared to be fully aware of the associated problems but once bitten he did not appear to become twice shy! Indeed, he appeared to surrounded himself with a complete professional team, including a coaching and scouting team that could deal with the PGMOL anomalies, along with the dictatorship of the FA. Hence we had a club that for over 20 years was followed and admired throughout the world by all and sundry (except certain northern media outlets) with regards to the type of football played and the associated spirit within which it was played. Mistakes were made but professionalism prevailed.

    My point in writing this is that coaching and scouting are important and fundamental to performance (as well as financial investment). Since the final year of Mr Wenger’s demise, we have seen a major transformation in Arsenal performance in a very short time. (The PGMOL has not changed other than it now operates VAR too). So what has changed? Coaching and scouting teams have changed, not once but now three times in a short space of time! Supporters, myself included, have complained about the PGMOL. Very little has changed with regards the performance of Man City; Liverpool and the like, etc. They still seem to operate with excellent coaching and scouting teams. For me a fundamental necessity! Perhaps the apparent bias against Arsenal performancel by the PGMOL, has more to do with coaching and management personnel issues. These have changed considerably…… I recently asked another French Arsenal fan this question ” What is the difference between the coaching strategy of Mr Emery’s coaching team and that of Mr Arteta’s coaching team? His reply was “C’est comme la différence entre merde et la merde” (or shit and shite) Perhaps he sees something important other than just the PGMOL!

  4. When Peter Walton 14 years senior referee on BT suggests that Luiz was csent off because he has previous , you know that bias is being exercised.
    Then follows that up with
    “VAR is not there to get the correct decision” says Peter Walton on BT Sport. (After seeing Martinez drag Lacazette to the ground)
    Now we know that we are in trouble

  5. The English football I mean the premiership are full of errors from the referee down to the so called VAR. to me it seems as the referee and VAR comspired together to ruined some club and favor some I can count on more than three occasion the referee and var had refuse to do the right thing against Against Arsenal our match against Man Utd Bruno Fenendes from behind and stamp his stud on xsaka refree and var kept blind eye in our match against wolves a player entangled his leg with David Louis David Louis was given a red card and penalty awarded in our match against Aston villa Martinez pulled Laccazert and a fowl awarded against him is like some club are immune to errors last time a match between Man Utd and Brighton has ended when var. remembered it was a penalty recently man utd vs Southampton two red card was given against Southamton only to be canceled after man utd might have won them 9 zero now who is fooling who what about the result no wonder peoples keep saying that English football is a fixed game if keenly watch the referee and var are doing there is truth in it to some club they are favored to some they are not favored there must be something wrong somewhere in English football

  6. porter
    7 February 2021 at 12:51

    Read this comment Arsenal and put it on your site!! It is what the PGMOL say. It is time to interview the FA and the BBC and Sky and get their statements published.

  7. Historically, the anti AFC bias is long and deep in the press, the League and public. I’ve commented before that it starts with Arsenal being the biggest club in the Country’s biggest city. So it’s not unusual for ‘the rest’ to take a poke at the biggest. Combine that with a lazy, biased media and a referees association and league dominated by people from everywhere except London and the south, and this is the result. I don’t know that anything can be done to reverse this long time trend which gets worse every year.
    I do wish management would defend their own product occasionally. The fact that they don’t makes the Club fair game for every moron that comes along with the latest ‘Arsenal are horrible because…’ Just one man’s opinion.

  8. “The implication was clear: Arteta is sending out physical teams with the instruction to intimidate or even hurt the opposition and the referees are thankfully doing their job”
    …Tony that deduction is entirely your construction. You can’t make up something and use it to beat the BBC. Frankly I’ve not heard anyone suggest arsenal is playing very physical football. As you went on to say, there are many other ways of getting red cards other than playing overly physical. Leno’s red or indeed Xhaka’s or Luiz’s have had little to do with an overly physical approach, rather it’s been due to poor defensive judgement and temperament issues. Either way they are problems that need solving. Having 9 red cards in less than 2 years for whatever reason is a problem that needs highlighting and solving

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