When the final whistle blew at the Emirates in the North London derby, it signalled the start of the predictable narratives that would endlessly be talked about.
Arsenal proved they were still superior. Tottenham proved their problems were still unresolved. Arteta is making progress. Nuno Espirito Santo is not. Arsenal transformed from disaster to electric, while Spurs were flat rather than promising. In less than 20 days, the pressure was released on Mikel Arteta and piled on Nuno instead. The Gunners are now buoyantly looking up at the table. The opposite is said for Spurs.
Everything said from the first weeks of the season was flipped on its head.
To add, there has been genuine talk surrounding Nuno’s future. He won the Premier League Manager of the Month for August.
In football, it can take no more than three weeks for a team’s situation to change so radically that narratives switch drastically.
On a lesser-known or spectacular scale, Queens Park Rangers’ promotion fortunes were hit by three straight league defeats in September. For a brief moment, their credentials were questioned. A gritty win against Birmingham at the end of the month stabilised the switch.
Down the Championship table, Sheffield United had a dreadful August, which saw defeats to Birmingham, West Brom and Huddersfield. Following football’s reactionary code, many may have expected Slaviša Jokanović to be on the sack list due to who the defeats were against and the nature of their loss to West Brom. Last month, they climbed the table and any flames were briefly put out.
In essence, just a few results transform the narrative around a team.
On a basic level, a win is ecstasy and a loss is a disaster. Connect wins together and the club is sailing towards prosperity. Fall victim to consecutive losses and the media and fans are calling for someone’s head. If a player has a great game, they are fantastic. If a player has a terrible game, they are rubbish.
As they say, football is a results business. Points on the board build positive agendas. It isn’t rocket science.
But what it also is, is a culture. A culture of binary emotions driven by emotional stakes in the game.
The fans’ importance to the sport cannot be underestimated. Supporters are connected to the area they visit, the pub they drink in, the stadium they sit in, the colours they wear, the songs they sing, the players they cheer, and the badge they worship. The club is a community, and a community is a belonging.
Supporters are the protectorate of the sport. When the Super League burst into the open, the fans were one of the biggest factors in its retreat. When bad owners send clubs into the gutters, the fans are always there to pick up the pieces. When the stadiums were closed to spectators, the game’s soul was lost.
Given the supporters hold such a weight, they can be forgiven when they get lost in celebrations or be stricken by anger. They are bound to by an emotional attachment that is decreed through unwritten conventions.
This is, of course, as long as any ’emotion’ does not cross the line. In the worst scenarios, ’emotion’ turns is used as a channel to spread racist, sexist and homophobic remarks, or other types of derogatory language. The online treatment of Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka is just one recent example. Truthfully, the list is too long to write.
People understand how much the media’s evolution has contributed to heightening fan feelings, whether it is for better or worse. Social media is a persistent and relentless tool for venting or reaping in euphoria. Rarely will fans accept grey areas in a narrative. Teams are hardly deemed fine. Perhaps because that is boring and football is all about excitement.
The classic case is AFTV (or commonly known as ArsenalFan TV). The famous platform is repeatedly causing controversy with how fans express their views. Last season, Micah Richards criticised AFTV for piling on ‘horrible pressure’ on the players.
“You know AFTV, I’m a massive fan of it, I love it,” Richards said on Sky Sports in December. “But for the players, the amount of pressure… you could be scrolling through and your name pops up and someone’s being horrible and it can affect your confidence.
“These players now look at social media. Players work hard, trying to be better every day but there’s negativity”
Two years prior, Hector Bellerin had his own run-in with the platform where he said it is “wrong for someone who claims to be a fan and their success is fed off a failure”. Likewise, Gary Neville has also clashed with AFTV.
Much of modern football media capitalises on binary emotions of the moment. Overreactions are commonplace. Traditional media does not help by the amount of coverage they give to divisions like the Premier League.
In one such example, there were some overreactions after Chelsea lost to Manchester City. There are no doubts they should have performed better, but City’s performance was immense. On the day, Chelsea were beaten by a superior team on the day. A few months ago, the reverse happened in the Champions League final.
The questions around Chelsea extended after their Champions League loss to Juventus and their relatively poor performances throughout September. But as we have seen, you can never write off Chelsea, especially with Thomas Tuchel coordinating from the front.
The wealthier clubs tend to get knee-jerk reactions quicker because, well, they are wealthy and big. Manchester City looked vulnerable after they lost to Spurs and drew to Southampton. They also played well at the Parc De Princes but were unable to take their chances.
Sometimes even the best teams can be outplayed, fail to execute a game plan correctly, or just have an off-day. It isn’t shameless to say. That is what football is meant to be about, rather than the seizure of capital and wealth.
On a more controversial note, Ole Gunnar Solskjær is continuously a part of narratives and agendas. One of the Norwegian’s biggest achievements at Manchester United is restoring the team’s never say die attitude. When they go a goal behind, you cannot rule out United coming back to win the game.
When they win, they are Manchester United reborn. When they lose, it is a crisis. More cynically, critics may mock Solskjær on social media by calling him the real-life Ted Lasso. Right now, Solskjær’s side floats more towards AFC Richmond than Manchester United.
The likelihood is United will stick with their man and they will return to winning form soon. Why? Because it is entirely consistent with how the Norwegian’s tenure has gone so far.
Solskjær is the prime example of how social media agenda’s carry but can be exaggerated to extremes. You must fall into either the pro-Solskjær or anti-Solskjær camps respectfully.
In retrospect, Solskjær’s United are always just about fine. Regularly the Norwegian’s side is just about okay.
However, there are valid criticisms.: level performances, Solskjær’s Champions League record, individuality over collectivity, tactics, team balance, and getting Jadon Sancho going. They are all fair critics and only time will tell if they fade into the background or are the reasons for Solskjær’s eventual fall.
Nonetheless, it is always best to analyse these situations without the pressures of the culture that draws pro- or anti- movements. Calmness is often needed, though it is rarely expressed. Des Linton previously explained to The Football Pink how he performed whilst playing the game.
“If you get too pumped up, you cannot operate,” he said in February. “I never got sent off in my entire career. I used to look at people that did and question why they were getting so angry. Why get so pumped up? To me, that’s an emotion they cannot control. Maybe the pressure got to them and it came out in a tackle, or that moment of madness.
“I tried to keep things as practical as possible. It was my mechanism. If I approached things in a calm and collected way, then I play that way. If I am too pumped up or too emotional, then that will take over.”
In many ways, football reactions require similar level-headedness. Emotions can take over and run high. While they drive everything about football, sometimes it is good to set them aside once in a while to get a clearer picture.
But for this to happen, football would need to eliminate chunks of its daily soap opera drama. No matter how much people will complain about the binary reactions from fans or the media, everyone loves the entertainment it provides. When it falls into your favour it is an even better feeling.