Arsenal in the media: pressure, loyalty and fancy dress

If you’re reading this, then the likelihood is you’re a ‘mug.’ You’re a mug because you gave Ashley Cole stick for leaving Arsenal to join Chelsea. A mug for feeling angry that Cole left Arsenal because the club only offered him £55,000 a week, which made him feel ‘unvalued.’ And an even bigger mug, if – unlike Cole – you’re one of many football fans who work six days a week, handling two jobs in order to pay for your kid’s season ticket, your match-day programme, your merchandise from The Armoury, your train ticket and your very own seat at the Emirates, just to be known… as a mug.

Ian Wright’s choice of words to describe those who ‘caned’ Cole says a lot about the workings of our current media world. Celebrities use Twitter to communicate with their fans, which may be a good thing considering the increasing gap between the famous and the withdrawn, or really, the rich and the poor. There are dangers too. Media today is a fast network where information is needed and executed in a hurry; shove a microphone in a manager’s face immediately after a passionate game, squeeze an ill-thought out debate into a half-hour football chat show, or cook up an argument by publicising a short tweet that falls short in explaining what it actually intended to.

Wright quickly posted a series of follow-up tweets in an attempt to reconcile with the same bunch of fans who had always glorified him. In the end, he had joined a growing line of ex-Arsenal men unable to remember what loyalty is. His inarticulate outburst was a reminder of the dribble viewers had to suffer during Soccer Saturday on the Premiership’s penultimate weekend. This time it was Paul Merson, who suggested Robin van Persie would be too embarrassed to knock on Arsene Wenger’s door for contract talks, and how RvP would have been so offended by Wenger not showing up at one of his award nights that it could lead to the Dutchman wanting a move away.

What was going on? Where was all this rubbish coming from? Was it a surprise to hear it from former Arsenal men? Merson also claimed that Alex Ferguson would never fail to appear at one of his players ceremonies. Was he saying RvP should join United? Who knew. After the eight years of trust and friendship formed between two honorable people, Merson had somehow come to a conclusion that none of it counted, that it would all be forgotten because RvP was too ‘embarrassed.’ What was so unreasonable about Wenger not attending? Yes, this would definitely spell the end of RvP’s Arsenal career. He was off to join United.

This blog originally set out to discuss how the media affects performances and results. How media pressure can distract a footballer from performing to his best. How critics, pundits, newspapers, radio, interviews and fans can all build pressure in a way that serves to either galvanise or corrupt a player or team. It was to be defensive of Arsenal and critical of the rest. It would argue that Arsenal are a particular favourite for media provocation. How Wenger upset the trend when he became the first foreign manager to prise the Premiership crown from the clutches of his British counterparts. How he began to build his foreign legion and a new attitude emerged – embraced by the media – that was all about kicking the ‘frogs’ and teaching them a lesson, the English way.

It was, in fact, a recent viewing of ‘The Fisher King’ that brought around the question: can the media be held responsible? If you haven’t seen it, Jeff Bridges plays an arrogant radio show host, whose insensitive remarks indirectly lead a depressed caller to commit mass murder by opening fire in a Manhattan bar. Can the media be held responsible though (and don’t think I’m accusing it of murder)? This blog was going to talk about the media being responsible for using ‘hype’ as a tool to heap pressure on teams. Arsenal’s defensive woes would have been an obvious example, which might be so hyped up that a single goal brings The Gunners to meltdown. Victor Moses’ lightning performance at The Emirates sprang to mind, as did the loss at Blackburn and many others. Then again, the same hype might have been the catalyst for all those Arsenal last minute winning goals.

Ian Wright went on to defend Cole, tweeting: “mugs was a bit strong. Suppose when you’ve sat down and [heard] how he speaks about the AFC situation first hand, happy 4 him,” followed with “would love to see him do [P]iers Morgan show.” There was Wright, reaching out, trying to touch our hearts and make the public believe that the rich and famous somehow deserve so much sympathy because they didn’t get the extra few grand they desperately needed. That’s not to say Cole merits the excessive abuse, but don’t make out the fella’s been to hell and back, just like many of the guest do on Morgan’s Life Stories. Cole would fit in well sitting on a couch between Katie Price and Kelly Osbourne.

Through his tweet though, Wright quite helpfully steered the boat back in the right direction, unintentionally highlighting that I was being soft, feeling too sorry for Arsenal admist the media’s menacing pursuit of them (if you think there even is one). It’s not as if I had any statistical data to prove Arsenal are the fall-guys for media pressure anyway, only the reliance of my observing eye that searches for the worry on a player’s face, or the defeatist slump in their body language that almost admits: ‘everyone was right, we are crap at defending.’ To the well-seasoned football fan, that clutched look can be easy to spot. It was present during the 3-0 defeat away to AC Milan in the Champions League, and perhaps if Arsenal hadn’t felt so sorry for themselves that night, they might even have gone on to win the competition.

I felt no sympathy for Cole and I stopped making excuses for Arsenal. Maybe the media do target The Gunners in a different way to everybody else. Whether that’s true or not, they certainly aren’t alone. The media is a powerful monster that feasts on anybody who shows weakness. Tottenham certainly succombed to it this season, distracted in the chase for fourth spot when manager Harry Redknapp was linked with the England job, made all the more bitter to swallow (or laughable, depending on who you are) when in the end the media whispers held no foundation and Roy Hodgson was installed instead.

Can the media’s feeding frenzy be linked to the lack of loyalty in today’s footballers? In other words, does the pace of the media influence our superstars to want glory in a rush? Impatience is not a media virtue. Lose a few games and a club is doomed, so the crisis is averted by a player abandoning ship and blaming the teammates he left behind. Samir Nasri went to Manchester City and won the league, but along the way he sacrificed his personal development for a winner’s medal. Are the ex-Arsenal men who become involved in the media any better? One theory is, they, just as politicians might, step into their respective parliament with good intentions, only to come out on the other side making one-sided arguments, the media’s golden rule and the key to provoking argument. Perhaps this is what gets in the way of loyalty.

We see the problems the media causes every year; how it can damage loyalty, how it breaks a team’s mentality more than it fixes it. Take the champions of English football. Nobody has been in the media eye more often than them, what with the whole Carlos Tevez AWOL episode and the endless Mario Balotelli misdemeanours. Sure, they earn mega riches, yet despite that, City have a core group of players who go the full stretch to earn it, all the while showcasing how to put aside off-field affairs and get on with the job, no one more so than their captain, Vincent Kompany.

In the 2005-2006 NFL season, Washington Redskins’ Clinton Portis became famous for wearing outrageous costumes and playing bizarre characters during interviews to deflect negative press. ‘Sheriff Gonna Getcha’ wore a long black wig, fake glasses with huge eyes, a Led Zeppelin T-shirt and a star-shaped badge. The press had fun with his characters, Portis started breaking records, the team loosened up and became play-off contenders. OK, so footballers are not superheroes like we sometimes think they are. Pressure gets to the best of us, but the game has reached that stage now where handling the media is half the game. To pass that stage Arsenal must find better ways to cope. If those methods don’t work, then get Alex Song some fake glasses with huge eyes. He’s already got the wig.