Ex-Gunner Pundits – Don’t Expect Bias

Originally posted in the Gooner Fanzine.

Thierry Henry’s residence in the Sky Sports studio was originally met with optimism within the Gooner network. Amidst the stale diatribes of Graeme Souness, the obtuse observations of Jamie Redknapp and the poor enunciation of Jamie
Carragher – the world of punditry wasn’t blessed with likeable or agreeable personalities.

We won’t even mention BT Sports woeful lineup nor Match of the Days insistence on using Danny Murphy who has less charisma than a politicians Facebook page. The reality is, the strange and skewed world of punditry has a very low barometer when it comes to the grade they have to make.

Then along came Gary Neville. The man who thrived on vilification in his playing career at Man Utd, the weasel-like man who wasn’t averse to the darkest of arts in order to not only obtain a win but also to humiliate the opposition. Unliked by all, but respected due to his humongous desire for victory. His transition to premier expert at Sky Sports was rapid. His observations on the game mix in-depth tactics and the highlighting of errors no matter the target. His bias towards the only club he ever loved is apparent but it doesn’t cloud his judgement. When United deserve a Neville lashing – he gives it both barrels. The former awfully-moustached Neville has cornered the football expert market thanks to his approach which alienates no one.

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Back to Thierry Henry. The man who may be cast in bronze, but capable of golden moments. As near an idol as you can get without praying at his feet. Which I may have done at one point. Ahem. Sky Sports revelled in the capture of Le King, placing adverts every fifteen or so minutes on their channels proclaiming Henry’s arrival to their shores.

Rightfully so. During the World Cup coverage of 2014, Henry’s insight was cutting but offered fantastic acumen that the other tired cliches that the BBC wheeled out couldn’t touch. Whether it was because he was surrounded by such terrible pundits which added to his lustre or simply because his discerning approach and honest views were exactly what was needed – Henry impressed.

The start to his Sky Sports punditry career went according to plan. Turning up in the finest of fineries – his keen eye was as rapier as his attacking was on the pitch. He wasn’t to everyone’s tastes, but he offered something different and besides – what football personality is universally liked?

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Thierry’s insistence on using ‘we’ when mentioning Arsenal only saw him endear himself to Gooners when we all thought we couldn’t adore him more. There can be no doubt he has a Cannon on his chest, whether wearing the jersey or not.

Then along came the Arsenal Vs Chelsea match. Chelsea strolled along knowing that the title was merely a formality and they only had to achieve the ‘Mourinho Special’ – stop the opposition scoring – and they were one step closer. Two holding midfielders – check. Play on the counter – check. After our rage at this once more negative but professional approach – can Gooners really blame Chelsea for rocking up to one of their chief rivals home ground and playing for the draw?

After the inevitable 0-0 draw, it was the pundits in the studio’s turn to offer their opinions. To impart their nuggets of wisdom. Thierry then did the unthinkable – he criticised.

We are not privy to the production and direction side of things in the studio. One thing is abundantly clear to all who had seen Henry’s earlier appearances in the hotseat – he was completely biased towards our club. We loved him more for this. This surely wouldn’t have pleased his bosses. Pundits are employed to offer untainted views on a game and Thierry wasn’t obliging. I think it isn’t that big of a leap to surmise that he would have been instructed to offer his views on how Arsenal could improve.

He did just that. He mentioned that Arsenal need 4 players in the summer. They need to keep Giroud, but he shouldn’t be our first choice option. He also placed one foot on a mine by saying he would replace Ozil with Fabregas.

Heresy. Not even our hero could escape the onslaught of hate that followed. Fabregas completely divides opinion within Gooners, but it is crystal clear that Fabregas’s haul of assists looms over Ozil’s total.

Thierry Henry’s autobiography, written expertly by Phillipe Auclair – mentions Henry’s obsession with stats and his insistence on making them as impressive as possible. So for Henry to be so fixated on Cesc’s number of assists isn’t surprising. What is perhaps rather bewildering is his ignorance towards Fabregas’s dire second half of the season and his flitting in and out of the game like an aimless passenger waiting for a train that never shows up. Ozil’s style is completely different and his continual involvement in attacks means he is never a passenger. He is a catalyst to our play, but more often than not it is unseen as it isn’t a defence splitting pass or a 25yd thundercracker.

Ozil has won over most Gooners, but some still pine over Fabregas. Henry split the fan group with his comments – but this surely was inevitable?

Paul Merson, Ian Wright, Alan Smith, Lee Dixon, Martin Keown. All ex-Gunners who have engraved their names on our nostalgia but have offered some stinking soundbites when proffering their opinion on the club which made their name.

My point is that no matter what club they played for, a pundit will always say something we don’t like. Making us spit out our beverage in a frothy rage or gesticulating wildly at the TV. Perhaps inspiring some to tap angrily at keys and produce nonsense – such as this!

Pundits cannot be viewed with the same eye we used to worship them when they took to the pitch for us. They are there in their capacity to court controversy and offer their discernment no matter how it offends. Thierry Henry is the same, although I think he actively tries to avoid saying anything untoward regarding our Gunners.

His observation regarding replacing our current striker and bug-eyed German may raise the heckles – but it is how he sees it. We must wash clean the slate from his playing days and take his opinions straight. We cannot dilute every sentence with the past.

Thierry Henry et al will always reserve the most special of places within our memories – but that is where they should stay. Those recollections in our grey matter library should be sacrosanct. Their musings now should be handled separately and with a pinch of salt. Who knows if a director is demanding objectivity through the earpiece which is connected to the ear of a legend?

By @JokmanAFC

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