What a day. There are occasions when I don’t keep abreast of the day’s sporting news – a busy day at work, a day away from the laptop and phone – it happens. The most notable one was the day of Henry’s sale to Barcelona – I remember being oblivious until a family phone call in the evening that took a few minutes to figure out. Sometimes you aren’t aware of events until the furore has died down.
Today, I could tell something had happened – my Twitter timeline was enormous, unusually so. Had Wenger got slapped with a mighty ban? Djourou had another twist in his injury saga? Something takeover related, perhaps?
No, none of the above. Instead, it was all about Wenger’s dubious use of the word ‘never’ when describing his expectations over Thomas Vermaelen’s fitness. As with many misleading stories, the context is vital, so here is his full quote:
“For Thomas Vermaelen the season is over. In fairness he has not played since September, I never expected him to be fit before the end of the season. He is not out on the field yet and it is impossible [for him to play] after six months without competition. I am confident he will have a full recovery but for this season we cannot rely on him.”
If, like me, you read this and see nothing particularly wrong, then apparently you are in the overwhelming minority. The major issue has been with the words “I never expected him to be fit before the end of the season“. People have taken that to mean that back in January, when he had the opportunity to sign a covering central defender, he knew that Vermaelen was unlikely to play again, and chose not only to make no purchases, but lie to the Arsenal fans with an overly optimistic assessment.
The quotes came out on Twitter, and as with everything stuffed into 140 characters, context was entirely absent. The pot had been stirred, the torchlight was burning, and people were making a beeline for our manager. A liar, an idiot, a moron, a deceptive fool whose time was up – all descriptions I saw tonight, from our own fanbase. People I have a lot of time for got caught up in the madness and wrote entire blogs on how it was another example of him losing the plot.
Excuse my language, but for fucks sake, take a step back and look at the full quote. It is fairly clear to me that he went for an assessment on Vermaelen’s fitness yesterday or today, and did not expect to be told that Vermaelen would play a part in the rest of the season, largely because there is not long left, and he has been out for so long that the remaining recovery, plus light training, plus full training, plus a couple of reserve matches would take us to mid May. He even clarifies this pretty clearly in the line that follows the contentious one.
What he doesn’t mean is that in January, he expected Vermaelen to be out for the season. The word ‘never’ does not refer to ‘from the day he was injured, I knew it was a season ender‘, because that plainly isn’t true. He couldn’t have been more explicit at the time, in January, and since. Only now that he has been out for so long has Wenger accepted that Vermaelen would not feature again this season, irrespective of how soon the medics feel he can return to training. Today, he ‘never’ expected the medics to give him a report that suggested Thomas would make it – essentially he is saying ‘it doesn’t matter how his Achilles is now, he isn’t going to be match ready by May anyway’.
When you look at it like that, it is not unreasonable in any way. Of course it is frustrating for all of us, much as I’m sure it is frustrating for the manager, not the mention the player, but I suspect that today’s ire has had a great deal more to do with the risk Wenger took in January as opposed to the comments themselves. It is almost as if many have been waiting for an opportunity to slam him with a great big fat ‘I told you so‘. Today, by taking something wildly out of context and warping the meaning, they got their wish.
Part of that is understandable – Wenger certainly took a gamble in January. Vermaelen was some way from fitness, Djourou was doing fantastically well but his record suggested an injury was likely (the actual injury he got was unfortunate, however, and could have happened to anyone), Koscielny was looking fine while Squillaci has flattered to deceive. We had a similar depth to last January, when Sol was brought back to boost the numbers. This year, a bigger gamble was taken.
It seems that gamble is the real issue that caused today’s storm. But I can’t help but feel it is enormously counterproductive to be waiting for an opportunity to write the doomsday stories, and I’ve been really disappointed to see so many rip into Wenger so mercilessly over something he didn’t even mean. Put simply, Wenger is not enough of a moron to say that sentence in the way people are taking it, yet that simple fact doesn’t lead people to investigate further.
What is perhaps more concerning is that it hasn’t been the press overreacting – look for the story in the papers and you’ll see only loose references. It is the Arsenal fanbase picking this up and running with it, and quite frankly it has been horrible to watch.
The 24/7 news cycle has a lot going for it, Twitter in particular – news arrives fast, some excellent journalists are on hand and willing to interact with the public, and great debate and discussion can quickly be had. It is a fantastic medium. But sometimes it encourages a mob mentality, where people react without thinking and get caught up in the crest of a furious wave. It can happen to anyone – I’ve seen some very reasonable people involved today, and perhaps if I had been on Twitter when it came out I may have joined them. Being reactionary is one of the easiest traps to fall into.
But we are all Arsenal fans. We get furious when the press twist things to suit their own agenda. Let’s not do the same.