IS ANTI-ARSENAL BIAS STILL DRIVEN BY ITS WENGER PAST
Arsene Wenger was the first manager outside of the British Isles to win the Premier League. He managed this feat in his first full season in charge clawing back a 12 point deficit at Christmas chasing Man Utd no less. Ever since that moment, the status quo was disrupted and there was a sense of discomfort from the powers that be. There was a shift of power in terms of who the team to beat were. A shift from the focus of Sir Alex Ferguson. A shift from winners only stemming from the UK. There was already an influx of foreign talent, player wise, that had taken the Premier League by storm but there was still the notion of them being governed so to speak by the establishment, the corner stones and foundations of the Premier League.
Enter Johnny Foreigner to go on and win the Premier League to shake things right up. Couple this with France going on to win the World Cup in 1998 and we as a club were seen as imported. Having the likes of Vieira, Anelka, Grimandi, Petit as our prominent French representation added to the likes of Bergkamp, Overmars and Ljungberg as main stays within the team. There was a pretty large sprinkling of overseas talent along with the English bedrock at the back. Now in those days we weren’t seen as soft primarily due to the backbone I just mentioned. There was no bullying us, and if that happened there were plenty that could mix it if needed. Though as time went by the backbone was slowly altering as was the perception of our club.
As our football continued to be the most coveted style in the land and the new ideas brought to English football by Arsene Wenger remained so alien to all that were already here, our club very much had an aura transpiring the notion of a “fear of the unknown”. The only way this type of football has historically been dealt with by other clubs has been to dial up the physical. And so it began. The crunching challenges, the roughing up and the “Arsenal don’t like it up em” mentality was well and truly in play. The injury numbers at Arsenal have always been eyebrow raising-ly high and there hasn’t necessarily been a fool proof explanation as to why.
There are countless examples of bad injuries but it’s not even necessarily the tackles themselves. It’s the reaction to them that perpetuates things and makes the situations exponentially worse. I came across a clip of Arsenal leading Sunderland 3-0 away from home in the 91st minute, when Dan Smith puts in a cowardly studs up tackle on Diaby with no intention of winning the ball that ended up breaking Diaby’s leg. The referee (astoundingly) gave only a yellow card, but that’s not even the worst bit. The commentator having the privilege of viewing the incident with multiple angles, showcasing the horrific tackle, was perfectly comfortable in saying “certainly catches Diaby” and “I don’t think it’s a red card, certainly a yellow”. Followed by “It’s reckless” with the view of seeing his ankle/leg snap in two. It’s as if there is a higher threshold and unconscious bias that has always existed due to us having the “foreign aura”. It might sound a little ridiculous, however I have had this thought for quite some time and current events can only corroborate this.
By current events I can think of so many examples. Red cards for us vs not others, double yellows for us and not others, problems with us celebrating but not others. In fact the best one was Gabby Agbonlahor saying (just a few weeks ago!) that he loved seeing Gerrard show the passion and celebrate the way he did on the touchline and that this is what fans wanted to see. Only to then revert his opinion completely around how much Arsenal should be celebrating when having beaten Villa in their own back yard. Laura Woods brilliantly called this out on TalkSport, which was great to see. What’s more is that if you can’t celebrate a win, a goal, a moment, what the hell is the point of it all? Add to that the outrage of us having 1 game postponed legitimately within the rules and that being the point at which it was “all too much”. Not the 22 game postponements before that. Of course the rules were changed thereafter.
It’s maddening to think that there is a conspiracy, but I in no way think it’s that well planned. I really think it comes back down to what we’ve done in a good sense in the past. Our big victories and trophies were seen as a speedbump rather than a whole new path, and maybe that’s what has retained the discomfort among the establishment for so long. The narrative across the board is completely different for The Arsenal and if anything it’s been a big part of what has united our fan base over the past few months.
My main conclusion of this all is simply that there is an unconscious bias that exists giving referees, pundits, opposing players and even fans the strange entitlement to accept Arsenal so long as they stay “below their station”. There are plenty of other foreign players and managers in the English game now, which is great as it truly gives us the platform for having some of the best football in the world. We have the best managers in the league and now the Messi and Ronaldo are winding down I’m fairly sure that we are about to have all of the best players in the league too. It’s definitely a great thing that Arsenal were a big factor in paving the way for all of this to happen, being the older sibling that put up with the harsher restrictions, for the parents to be far more liberal with the ones that followed.
It’s exactly this reason that will make any success we have in the future all the sweeter, because we’ve got super Mikel Arteta and he knows exactly what we need… 😉