My goodness, what a feeding frenzy we’re witnessing in the media. These headlines are all from the past 24 hours:
Pressure Mounts on Wenger (Irish Times)
Arsène Wenger: I Will Not Quit (Daily and Sunday Express)
Wenger… In Retreat From Hard Reality (The Independent)
A Manager Alone As His Team Crumbles Around Him (New York Times)
Arsenal May Be In Battle of Relegation (Bleacher Report)
Bruised and Battered (Bangalore Mirror)
Sack Race – Arsène Wenger Next to Go? (BettingLatest.com)
Wenger: I Won’t Quit (Sky Sports)
Wenger in Trouble (Fiji Times)
Reporters and editors can’t help it. When they get a scent of blood they want to pursue the story to its conclusion – the resignation or sacking of their chosen target.
It’s a common enough phenomenon in politics (a junior Minister is perceived to have made a couple of gaffes, the press round on him, follow him, dig into his past, ask leading questions until eventually he quits or gets the boot).
It’s also now common in football, particularly early in the campaign, when trying to provoke the first managerial sacking of the season is a sport and a pastime, like bagging the first grouse on the 12th of August or being first back into London with this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau.
The reporters like to think they are impartial chroniclers of events (I know, I’ve been one). What they seem unable to grasp is that in certain circumstances they cease being dispassionate observers. Instead they become key players in whatever drama they have fixated on, with an influence completely disproportionate to their proper role.
It’s like saying you simply want to report a trial and then turning up and organising the lynch mob.
As the headlines above show, there are large swathes of the British media right now who can smell a hanging where Arsene Wenger is concerned – and they’re eager to start building the scaffold.
And although it may seem comical to see their frenzied rabble-rousing echoed in news reports from Fiji to Bangalore, I used those examples to show how the international media takes its lead from what’s written on the home front and how the story of Arsenal’s “crisis” goes worldwide.
Take the “Wenger – I Will Not Quit” headlines.
As far as I know, there has never been the slightest suggestion from Arsène (or Arsenal) that he would leave the club.
Instead, those oh-so impartial reporters used the old “when did you stop beating your wife?” trick. If you ask a man if he is going to resign and he says “no” you have precisely zero amount of story. Except that if you have traded your chronicler role for one of agent provocateur, it gives you licence to run a headline saying “Wenger Denies He’s Quitting”, thereby publishing a story that implies the idea of him quitting had been on the agenda when, in fact, it never had.
It’s a subtle form of lying.
So what’s the rap sheet against Arsenal’s manager?
He has played three games this season, won one, drawn one and lost one. He has not bought as many players as his critics think he should have. His captain has been sold. His squad has been hit by a blight of injuries and suspensions.
I’m not going to sit here and say everything is rosy. I am certainly in the camp of wanting more signings before the end of the month. But to describe this situation as a meltdown, a disaster, a crisis is way over the top.
An away point at Newcastle is hardly a disgrace, ditto a home win and clean sheet against the fourth best team in Italy and as for losing to Liverpool thanks to an offside goal, well…
I saw one headline after Saturday’s game saying that Arsenal had been “humbled” by Liverpool.
There was certainly some humbling being dished out in that match, but it wasn’t at Arsenal. A mightily assembled and mightily expensive Liverpool side could not get the better of a largely second-string Arsenal until a bad piece of officiating gifted them the game.
Given how good Arsenal’s debutants were and how poor some of ‘Pool’s expensive acquisitions were, I would be much more concerned now if I was a Scouser and not a Gooner.
The worrying thing is that all this negative coverage (of both Arsène and Arsenal) really can have a tangible effect. It might deter potential signings from joining us, it might harden the attitudes of current players who have doubts about the club’s direction and we know it massively influences a minority of fans. At its worst, it might even have the effect it’s aiming for and convince Arsene that he really should throw in the towel.
Arsene – if you’re reading this (and I know you often take a peep at AA when you’re on the bog) – please pay no heed. The pressure on you must be awful, but take some comfort from this:
I am keeping all these headlines and all these stories and at the end of the season, when the world hasn’t exploded, when we have again competed well on all fronts and finished in the top four, I will, on your behalf, write to all the authors and demand their apology.
They want your head on a plate.
Let’s strengthen the squad, galvanise the team and, instead, give them a faceful of plate silverware.