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The AAA

The article below was written in June 2012.   There is a more recent article on the same theme here…

The Anti-Arsenal vision and there are links to other articles at the end.

Now here’s the original article…

This article deals with the modern day AAA.  But the notion of a group of people who call themselves Arsenal supporters while arguing against all the club does, goes back 120 years.  To read about the origins of the AAA 120 years ago please click here.

The term “Anti-Arsenal Arsenal” was introduced by Untold Arsenal, to signify a group of people who although claiming to be Arsenal fans, expressed their “support” by heavily criticising some Arsenal players, the Arsenal manager and the Arsenal board.

Several names were given to this group by Untold, including the “simplicists” (noting that in many of their posts they tended to simplify what might be considered complex issues which cannot be debated readily just by reducing the discussion to one or two points, rather than including in the debate many of the broader issues which face football clubs today.)  However it was the term Anti-Arsenal Arsenal (AAA) that stuck, and has been adopted quite widely.

It has often been suggested that much of the debate from the AAA has been artificially generated.  This was picked up on Untold Arsenal where it was noticed that a number of posts putting forward the AAA stance, although purporting to be from different people, were all coming from the same IP address.  The technique used included the amusing ploy of one person putting forward an AAA case, with another quickly coming in and saying, “I am so glad someone has had the sense to say this.  I have been thinking this for some time…” and so on.  Evidence was gathered and it became clear that these were the same person.  Since we banned the first IP address doing this others have sprung up, sometimes adopting the ploy of cut and pasting whole articles from other sites and posting them on Untold as original comments.

The notion that there is a link between some AAA commentators is highlighted by the fact that a number of them seem to pick up on the same point at the same time.  In the summer of 2012, for example, we have seen a sudden flurry of comments on the difference in points total of the first two clubs and Arsenal in third.  Then as quickly as this started, it vanished, and a new approach turned up focussing on the number of goals let in.  Often these posts did little more than quote the number and say that this proved something was clearly wrong and the manager should go – they typically contained no debate.  An earlier example came with the repeated statement in the summer of 2010 that the season ticket waiting list at the Emirates had vanished and that season tickets were on general sale – all due to the fans’ dislike of the manager.   There was however no evidence for this at all and an analysis of the season ticket waiting times for singles, doubles and trebles (all of which had different numbering systems) was still in the order of 10 years.

Apart from the technique of some of the AAA the key difference between their approach and others is that football matters can be discussed simply – for example by assuming that Arsenal should buy more players.   The opposite view, and one supported by Untold Arsenal for example, is that this approach is not reasonable: football is profoundly complex and in a state of flux.  Indeed our argument has always been that football is ceaselessly changing.  The approach that was used by Arsenal during the early part of Mr Wenger’s reign of buying in players who were less well known in England, from across the world, and making changes to training, diet etc, worked well when they were not themselves well known by other clubs.  But as is often said, these days, one is likely to see half a dozen English scouts at every French second division game, and anywhere where there is an Arsenal scout visible that number doubles.

Further, the arrival of billionaire owners who are willing to spend sizeable amounts on their clubs have changed matters too.  The fact is that it is often the case that if Arsenal shows an interest in a club, that club can talk to Man City or Chelsea and try and get a larger offer, making the transfer market for Arsenal very difficult.   Add to this the fact that the FA and EPL will take no action on tapping up, it is clear that players who want to move for money will be able to do so.

Untold has also watched economic trends in football and Europe with interest and again takes the view that changes in the economy of Europe will have profound impacts on football, and again the club should move with the times, waiting for the right moment to buy.

Putting all these points together, Untold writers tend to take the view that football is complex and the simple announcement of one fact, or the desire to buy certain players (on the assumption that they want to come to Arsenal, and that their clubs will sell, and that Man City, Chelsea and similar clubs elsewhere in Europe won’t hijack the transfer, is simplistic.

We do feel however that although Mr Wenger is clearly not liked by some fans, he is highly esteemed by players across Europe, and so we do have a strong chance of bringing in players who want to play for him.  Against that we have a general view that the activity of the AAA does Arsenal harm, and that there is a chance that some players look twice and turn away, because of the abuse hurled at some Arsenal players.

Which leads to the issue of abuse.   Untold tends to reject commentaries that are

a) abusive to the writer, or Arsenal fans in general, or any Arsenal player

b) off topic

c) not from a valid email address.

d) plagiarised

The abuse issue is an interesting one as one comment recently posted on the site shows.  In it the writer asked me to express my views and said “Please don’t resort to abusing me”, because (he said) he really wanted to know my answers.    But then elsewhere in the same commentary while asking me not to be abusive to him he said, “you really are deluded” which seems as close to abuse as you can get.  Abuse sadly is everywhere in this debate, and generally fails to take matters forwards.

It is my view that what often happens is that an AAA writer defines the issue very clearly by stating some “facts” as he/she sees them.  But many who are not AAA sympathisers do not actually agree either that these are facts or that they are relevant facts.   The press may say we are trying to buy player X, who then goes to Man City and the AAA complain that Arsenal is being too mean, too slow, too stupid or whatever.  But the facts might well be that Arsenal were not trying to buy the player, or that the player, on hearing of Man City’s interest wanted a salary of £250,000 a week, or perhaps wanted to be paid through an off-shore trust to avoid tax, or perhaps wanted to use the sort of payment structure that Rangers are now being brought to book for in Scotland.

To give another example, in a recent example there was a claim that the Wenger was clearly a poor manager because he broke up the Invincibles too quickly.  But the issue of whether this is true or not is complex and would surely take several long articles to debate – drawing not only on what happened to players when they left Arsenal, but also on why the players left (Vieira wanted to leave, for example, and then fairly soon after, having found he was playing for a club involved in match fixing, wanted to come back) and the lessons to be learned from a comparison with (say) the double team of 1971 that within three years of the double that taken Arsenal into the relegation zone.

Thus it is that the differences of opinion arise, and the different styles of writing arise.  The world is full of opinion, there is nothing wrong with that, but I do think that we could do without the abuse at the level it is now running at.  And I do find it dispiriting when, having written a 1000 word moderately closely argued piece I find myself called deluded, without any serious argument being put forward to show where I am wrong.

But most of all I am bemused by the criticism of the whole concept of Untold.  It was set up to put forward a view that some of us hold, and which was felt not to be widely represented at the time.  Not to have done so would have been to allowed the AAA to be heard, but not have an alternative viewpoint heard.  Some are critical of this, saying we should judge each issue on its merits – a pragmatic approach.   But underlying theories are valuable in trying to find patterns, and pragmatism is an approach which, like all others, has its drawbacks.

I’m sorry that the advent of Untold has led to an increase in abuse levels, but not sorry for offering this alternative viewpoint to Arsenal supporters.  Although clearly some of the readers of this site are AAA, just as some are supporters of other clubs, most are, I believe, people to take a positive view of the way the club is being run under Mr Wenger and Mr Gazidis, and the fact that we have over 500,000 visits a month, and are the largest independent football blog in Britain shows it was all worth doing.

See also: How the boo-boys of the 1930s almost destroyed a wonderful player

Tony Attwood June 2012