How the media created the myth of “the gap” between Arsenal and the top four



By Tony Attwood

One of my regular points on Untold (and it has become regular because no one else seems to want to touch it, so it fits into the “Untold” theme perfectly) is that the English media tends to hunt in packs taking a unified view on certain aspects of football.  This view is generally little more than an opinion,but in a short amount of time becomes the accepted reality: the way that all right-thinking people will perceive football.

Sometimes this position can be reached because of what is said, and sometimes through what is not said; it can work either way.

Last season, for example, after three league matches, the consensus view in the media was that Arsenal were in real trouble.  Multiple headlines appeared about how this was the worst start since… well, opinion varied as to since when, but it was the worse in a long while.  And yes, as a sequence of league results it was pretty awful although the club did have the excuse of having several players missing or only semi-functioning through illness, with no postponement allowed by the league – a ruling that was changed when it happened to other clubs later in the season.

The fact that during this run of three Arsenal also beat WBA 0-6 in the league cup was rarely mentioned, and of course this was less significant than losing 2-0 to Chelsea and Brentford – the matches that had preceded it.  But it did give a slight hint that not everything was chaos and that a forward line of 20-year-old Ballogun who had never started a league match before, Pepe who the previous season managed one goal every three games, and 20-year-old Martinelli who was still finding his feet, was but a temporary measure.

Prior to this opening of the season the Guardian ran its regular piece describing how Arsenal might do in the year to come (2 August 2021) and opened with the headline, “After years of decline, it is time for the excuses to be cast aside and improvement to begin under Mikel Arteta”

Which some of us found this quite an extraordinary statement to make since after the first third of the 2020/21 season Arsenal were 15th.   In the remaining two-thirds of that season, the club were only out-performed by Manchester City in the league.

The most logical question at that moment therefore was, could Arsenal maintain that form as shown in the last two-thirds of last season, or was the clear intent to replace the whole of the defence likely to destabilise the show?

But such a fundamental question was not on the mind of Nick Ames, whose other recent contributions to the Guardian on football seem to have been exclusively on alleged rape, and the women’s game.  And yet here he is this season once more pontificating (or “running the rule over” as journalists like to say these days) on what will happen to Arsenal.

So perhaps not too surprising that Ames stills seems ignorant of Arsenal’s extraordinary evolution in the season before last, just as he seems to have had no idea about the way in which the club tackled the yellow card crisis which had made it the most carded club in the Premier League in 2019/20.  In 2020/21 however Arsenal’s yellow total sank in almost half, giving them only one more yellow than Liverpool, and leaving them 17th in the yellow table.

And what happened last season, with a completely new defence in place?  Did those players learn how to overcome the tactics of certain referees?   Ames with his very limited viewpoint doesn’t consider that topic (the answer being that the new defence were clearly not adjusted, and the yellow card total shot back up to 60).

So despite the article containing lines such as “Arsenal’s script is always absorbing,” clearly some of the real oddities are not absorbing enough to consider.  As for example the incredible variation in the results handed out by different referees dependent on where the match is staged.  Instead we are told there is “pressure on Edu”.  (Actually if there was any honesty in the business that would read “pressure on journalists” but of course honesty is in short supply).

The Guardian writers predicted that Arsenal would finish sixth last season, and as we know, the club were bottom of the league after three games, which makes the subsequent statement, “Last season, Arsenal promised so much before falling away” rather odd.  But Arsenal improved on that sixth place by one, and a further improvement of two points and a better goal difference would have been enough to take us back into the Champions League.

And so, without telling us about all of these key points, the Guardian is making the prediction of Arsenal remaining in fifth.

Now I was going to continue, but at this point the Guardian told me that I have to register with them to keep reading.   I have in fact registered with them twice before, and even gone so far as to tell them what the glitch is in the software that makes them not see registered readers as registered readers.

But they haven’t replied.  Or fixed the coding error.  So we’ll leave it there.

4 Replies to “How the media created the myth of “the gap” between Arsenal and the top four”

  1. Talk about deadwood journalists….

    Here is the leading sentence from the Arsenal story on the Guardian

    Two high-quality Manchester City cast-offs could help Mikel Arteta bridge the gap back to the Champions League places

    Talk about an oxymoron and the sheer will to systematically attack Arsenal even when describing something positive. At this level, it is almost worthy of respect. Just imagine the scene in the guys brain :

    Well, how am I going to put a negative spin on a good story. Where is my dictionnary….let me look…ah I have it here….

    Or maybe there is no such scene and some robot does the redacting and the guy puts his name on the piece.

    And to go back to a comment a few days back…labelling Jesus and Zinchenko as ‘cast-offs’ is nothing but disrespectful, and I’m not even beginning to talk about the price of the transfers which negates the term ‘cart-off’

    Deadwood….

  2. My coffee left my mouth involuntarily this morning when reading Jamie O’Hara’s claim – “When I was Billericay manager, I was like Pep Guardiola in pre-season.”

    Priceless.

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