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How the media got Arsenal quite wrong last season – and will do so again in 2021/2

By Tony Attwood

It is oft said that there are always two sides to every argument.   So while Jamie O’Hara in the Mirror has branded Arsenal a “mess” in a virulent attack on Arsenal’s perceived lack of transfers in the article on the summer transfer window I have been criticising the Mirror for its difficulty in taking into account the improvements Arsenal made last season.

There again there is an article in the Guardian which rightly criticises the commentators on women’s football at the Olympics for being inaccurate.  But then I’ve been criticising the Guardian’s coverage of Arsenal, as when for example the paper said, “Arsenal’s defensive record in 2020-21 was bettered only by Manchester City and Chelsea, although that was never going to offer much succour after a campaign of such barren reward.”

Now it is good that the Guardian has noticed that defensive record… I am not sure if they picked up on this from the mountain of statistics we have published recently, or their mentioning it now is just a coincidence – but the defence is only the start of the proceedings.  Arsenal also had the second best attack in the league through the last two thirds of last season.  That could have been mentioned too.

That comment came from the Guardian on 27 July.  And yet as a quick glance at the season’s statistics shows, the season was far from barren.  A completely new approach to playing was evolved which meant that we were the second best team through the last two thirds of the season, and cut our yellow card level (which was previously crippling the team on the pitch) from 86 in 2019/20 to 47 in 2020/1.  The largest drop I’ve ever seen.

The Guardian seems to know nothing of this and so talks about the need for “reinforcements” and the need to “still ship out a number of players.”

Yet as a result of the changes Arsenal got an average of 1.00 points per game in the first 14 games, but almost double this in the remaining 24 games (1.96 points per game to be exact).  So any talk about Arsenal having a useless season and needing to make changes now is nonsense.  Only those with a fixed agenda can’t see that.

And to be clear 1.96 points per game would have been enough to give us a place between 2nd and 4th in eight of the last ten seasons.  So not perfect by any means, and as we have been told so often “fourth is not a trophy” but it was a huge improvement over the first 14 games.

The question remains however: why does the Guardian and the rest of the media and most of the bloggers continue to spout “analyses” of Arsenal which are at best misleading and at worse, false, because they are so wholly incomplete.

In part it is because football has been dumbed down by the media over the years.  We’ve often noticed how BT Sport staff were quite unable to cope with the notion of 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw, and 1 for each goal.  It turned out to be way beyond their mental capacity.

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But there is a deeper problem: the way the media insist on focusing on individual events and individual players.  They rarely bother with the effect of tactics, and even less with the impact of referees.

Yet clubs that change and develop often do so over time, so looking at change rather than individual events is worthwhile.   Which is why last season we started running tackles, fouls and yellow cards comparisons.

Yet anyone wanting to know how Mr Emery’s reign was undermined need only look at the way the referees handled Arsenal during his reign.

Was that his fault, or the fault of the club?  Did the club tell Mr Emery – you have to take account of the referees, or was he left to assume that the Premier League is fair and all clubs are treated equally?  It looks like the latter, although this season, Mr Arteta has clearly adopted an approach that does take note of what the referees are up to.

But whatever the reason the fact is that the media will not touch the issue of the referees, any more than they want to talk about the effect of crowdless games in influencing results – another factor we’ve reported on and shown to be highly influential.

So what has all this work proven?

First, that the coverage in the media of football this past season has been utterly misleading, because it fails to consider the influence of the lack of crowds, the selection of certain referees, and the tactical change at Arsenal which resulted in cutting the yellow card level virtually in half.

Second, that the coverage has been weird, to the degree that at times it either looks like a grand conspiracy to hide relevant facts, or a set of articles written by people totally unable to see what is going on.  (I’m not alleging conspiracy, just saying it looks like one.)

But there’s worse, because although there has been a slight amount of levelling off by one or two reporters (the Mirror in particular has retreated a little) the central mode of reporting Arsenal is “last season was a disaster, the players need to be changed” with no reference to any of the key facts.

And since the same people seem to be writing commentaries now, who were writing last year, presumably this will carry on.   And it is not just as Arsenal thing for even the notable tactic was practised by Aston Villa, in which they seemed to invite the opposition to foul them, was never mentioned.  Villa were fouled 567 times by their opponents.   The nearest number to that came from Tottenham who were tackled 494 times.

The media’s reporting of football is best seen as a “flat earth” approach – it’s obvious the earth is flat so it is not even worth debating and certainly not worth reconsidering our approach to describing the earth.

Thus, it’s obvious that it is all about the individual players, not the tactics, not the way referees are chosen, not the impact of the crowd.

On that basis 2021/2 will be reported exactly last season was reported.   Team not top of the league?  Change the players.  

12 comments to How the media got Arsenal quite wrong last season – and will do so again in 2021/2

  • Micheal

    The writer’s depth of ignorance and failure to grasp even the basics of how the media operates is bewildering. The writer clearly believes there is a media conspiracy against Arsenal and makes a ludicrous attempt to assemble a few meaningless “facts” to support his misguided belief. Utter bilge.
    What next ? The Tooth Fairy does exist and Elvis is alive and living on the Moon.

  • Nyasha

    Good article, I thought the same thing about the media and fans last year

  • Ben

    Jamie O’Hara? the one that had 1 good game v Arsenal when at Spurs that O’Hara?

    No need to listen to whatever he spouts

  • John L

    Possibly a similar case to Danny Mills, who has never forgiven Arsenal for showing him up on the pitch.

  • Emilio

    What good game was that Ben?
    I’d be traumatised if I was tackled by a corner flag John L!

    The media have had an agenda against us since the days of Sir Henry Norris and this will always be the case. Inspire of the negativity, I take it as a compliment.

  • Michael, my guess (it can be no more than that because you haven’t provided any evidence) is that you have failed to look back at the detailed accounts given on this site through the summer, which are referred to in the article. The fact that Arsenal in the last two thirds of the season played in an utterly different way, and then all the data analysis that we have done since then. The article “Key data tables” will help you a little bit (https://untold-arsenal.com/key-data-tables-2020-21)

    But much more to the point there is your seeming belief that you can read one article, not go back to the source material and then comment on “The writer’s depth of ignorance and failure to grasp even the basics of how the media operates is bewildering”.

    Of course I am sorry that you are bewildered, but probably not as bewildered as I am in the fact that you felt it was feasible to comment on the article without actually understanding where the data came from. It’s all on this site through numerous articles published through the summer.

    But perhaps most interesting is the fact that you felt able to comment on such a piece without reading any background research which is what this site is full of. Most of us, I suspect, seeing something that we feel is ludicrous, just pass on, having other things to do. But you gave up your own time to comment. That’s really odd.

  • Mike Hunt

    Whilst the Guardian article was a lazy piece of writing, despite the clear improvements we are judged over a season not the final two thirds. Last season we were conceding fewer goals, got more points than the previous season, finished with five wins and have the nucleus of a team who are good enough to win at least a cup this season and should be close to Champions League qualification if the players who are likely to come in join.

    Danny Mills and Jamie O’Hara can be ignored as they’re too ignorant to do some real work. Lazy commentators who lack class, the pair of them! Love that we are living in their heads rent free.

  • GoingGoingGooner

    There has always been a jingoistic element to the British press. I believe our lack of representation on the national team has contributed to the poor press that we receive. I hope as our academy pushes more exciting youngsters like Saka through and they get capped that this will help us out.

  • Bernard

    I’m guessing that the Micheal who posted is a previous, banned, poster, writing under a pseudonym. He hasn’t spelt the name correctly, a common mistake by non Michaels.

  • Nitram

    Michael not really Micheal?

    You can ‘bank’ on it !

  • A Banks

    Michael, this website is all about blaming the press. It is interesting in the same way that it is interesting that people genuinely believe 9/11 was orchestrated by the US government. It does fascinate me that people start from a certain premise and see every fact or comment as proving the point. The evidence that Arsenal is a disastrous club really is there for all to see. Fans know it and the press know it and, of course, the press is entitled to write about it. It makes good copy.

    The author seems to be one of those people who just has very odd views. Arsenal apparently has not been performing so many tackles in the past, ergo this is a deliberate strategy by Arteta. Normal people would see this as further evidence that many of the players are not up for it – and as a bad thing. Apparently this was the case in the Man U v Leeds game, so it must be a deliberate strategy by Man U.

    It isnt just the press that criticizes Arsenal. Fans do and so do other persons well disposed to Arsenal. Does Emmanuel Petit have an agenda against Arsenal. Does Martin Keown? I dont think so.

    They know what we all know, that the club is poorly run and the manager is unable to address the problems. I have little doubt he wont be here by the end of November.

  • Michael, just so you get both sides of the story – “A Banks” is a person who writes to Untold on a regular basis, under a variety of different email addresses criticising our commentaries, which sadly he doesn’t quite grasp. But nonetheless he keeps coming back to the site – which is rather odd.

    Just for clarity, the website is not about blaming the press, as such, but rather makes the point that the media realises it can get readership by pumping out stories which are untrue. What’s more, since the stories are invented, they cost nothing in terms of research.

    There is a fulsome explanation of this behaviour, which is based on the technique known as “gaslighting” If you want to know more about gaslighting there is a good article at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/gaslighting

    Although I should say we are, I think, one of the few places where the established psychological technique is explored in relation to popular media articles.

    Tony

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