If there’s one thing the football punditry establishment is good at, it’s the ability to constantly show breath-taking incompetence when it comes to learning lessons on humility and reasoned arguments. Let me give you an example that illustrates my point.
In 2002, Arsene Wenger was laughed out of TV and radio studios and scorned in the back pages for suggesting that his Arsenal team can go a whole season without losing a single game.
Granted, it took the old man another year to achieve that monumental and historic feat, but there in lay a very big lesson about the folly of jumping band wagons, lazy journalism and frankly speaking, the innate prejudice that has riddled the punditry establishment from top to bottom.
Even before a ball was kicked this season, Arsenal were completely written off by pretty much everyone in the establishment, save for a handful of brave souls who were prepared to be ridiculed through the season. The intransigence shown by the hard core of pundits and hacks in cementing their hardline positions on Arsenal’s fall from grace was so tangible, that it choked anyone who would say otherwise.
One of the interesting features of the Internet though, is it’s uncanny ability to retain what pundits and hacks put on record in black and white, and also on video and audio. The preseason predictions about Arsenal’s chances of winning the EPL as so shockingly off base, if they weren’t funny, they’d be tragic.
Some of the authors of such predictions need to pray that their editors don’t review their work if and when their employer has to make job cuts, because they’d have to go. And we’re only half way through the season.
Just for the record, I’ll get off the fence here and publicly declare that I am confident Arsenal can win the title. I’ve even put my reasons on record in the weekly column I write on ACLF, where I outlined the eight reasons why Arsenal can win the title this season.
The funny thing about human nature is that many are not wired to climb down from hardline positions. It’s not that these hardline positions against Arsenal’s chances to win the title were based on considered reason—my belief is that there’s more to this.
Arsenal defies convention and stereotype in more than one way. The clubs vision, ethos and ambition, as well as it’s defiance and determination to win with beautiful football, however long it takes, is a path that many pundits and hacks find hard to fathom. It’s almost easier to dismiss it with lazy cliché’s and baseless sweeping statements about the club and it’s performances.
The thing is this though—the league table doesn’t lie. It’s not that there’s an expectation now that the hardliners who wrote Arsenal off at the beginning of the season will eat humble pie. Far from that, the humble pie is still being baked at London Colney, and when the time comes, it will be appropriately dished out.
What’s more funny and enjoyable right now is watching the plethora of pundits and hacks try to undig the graves that they dug for themselves. You’d think that they would start by not digging any further than they already are—but clearly, the situation Arsenal find themselves in is not one any of them were prepared for.
There are those who talk in ’3rd person speak. ' They’d come up with statements like ”Many pundits wrote Arsenal off but the Gunners are really showing a lot of character.” I like the ’many pundits’ label—as if they weren’t one of those.
Others use a twisted form of defensive pessimism by constantly looking for perceived holes and flaws to point out. ”Arsenal don’t have enough strength and depth,” or ”Arsenal still need an out and out goal scorer” not withstanding that Arsenal is still the most lethal team in the league, or ”Arsenal still need one or two new signings to make it,” or ”When it comes to the crunch, Arsenal won’t make it” You get the picture.
Then there are those who are seriously shifting positions in readiness for them to stake their claim as reasonable pundits. This lot totally ignore their hardline stance even as recently as a few weeks ago, and come up with tactics that are designed to deflect people away from their previous positions.
On radio and in newspaper columns, they’ve started asking questions like ”Is this Arsenal’s year? Can they do it? What will it take for them to do it?” You’ll also find them starting debates as to whether now Wenger needs to stop being ’stubborn’ and buy a striker in order to give Arsenal the best chance to win the league.
I think the most insulting pundits and hacks are the ones who now pretend that they have always believed in Arsenal and the promise of this young team is now showing. They’re pretending to praise Arsene Wenger’s vision and praising the young Arsenal side that has shown maturity and is now coming to fruition.
They claim that they always knew this team would deliver and maybe this is their year. They claim that there’s no justice in football if Arsenal’s scintillating and sexy brand of football is not rewarded with trophies. They feign frustration as if to empathise with frustrated Arsenal fans that the team seems so near and yet Wenger refuses (allegedly I might add) to ’buy’ that additional player that will make Arsenal the finished article.
My point is simple. The league table is undisputable and it doesn’t lie. The assumption and position taken by the punditry establishment is that Arsenal will fall off the cliff and Moneybags City from Middle Eastlands will ride into town and take over from Arsenal as the fourth force of English football.
Sky Sports even had the audacity to front a branding and marketing campaign of their ’Sky 4’ – Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Manchester City. These were going to be their Big 4 for the season.
The montage and imagery for this campaign was painfully obvious in illustrating the fact that they’d written off Arsenal even to make the top four in the EPL. They even had a specific advert for Sky Sports shown regularly with a clip of Manchester United’s third goal in the Champions League semifinal last year at the Emirates stadium, as if to remind folks why Arsenal should be written off.
That humble pie being baked will be a mouthful for sure when it’s ready to serve. Meanwhile, we can enjoy the squirming as they try to undig their graves.