By Tony Attwood
- This is part one of our series on gaslighting
- 2: How discussions about refereeing are deliberately stifled by the media
- 3: Referees: the odd statistics that are simply never revealed or discussed
- 4: How we have been utterly misled about football: part 4
- 5: Hiding the problem of refereeing is destroying the credibility of the Premier League
- 6: Revealed: PL referees are not 98% accurate but actually just 75% accurate
“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
- The media is quiet as Riley finally admits a huge number of referee errors.
- Why football journalism is both misleading and making no sense at all.
- Excellent newspaper article proves ref bias and points to media complicity in hiding it