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On 13 December 2012 Sky Sports News carried an interview with Stewart Robson in which he described Arsene Wenger as “a dictator” adding, “Tactically Arsenal are all over the place at times, they’re under-prepared defensively, and if you have that you’re always going to lose several football games in a season and not win trophies.”
In fact, Arsenal won the FA Cup three times in the next five years and ended up between second and fourth in this and the subsequent four seasons. Although that was considered to be not enough by some fans at the time, who would often cite the mantra “Fourth is not a trophy” it was subsequently shown that reaching the top four each season was not as easy as the fans thought.
There is of course a long history of ex-Arsenal players who come back as media commentators and who are highly critical of their former employers. However, there can surely be none who has taken this criticism of the hand that formally fed, as far as Stewart Robson.
Stewart Robson was born 6 November 1964 and played 150 league games for Arsenal scoring 16 goals. He also played 126 games for West Ham and Coventry, and managed Southend for three matches, winning one and losing two of his games.
Robson was born in Essex, educated in minor public schools and joined Arsenal as a schoolboy. He made his début on 5 December 1981 aged 17, against West Ham and was named Player of the Year in 1984 by Arsenal supporters, but following a series of injuries and the change of management to George Graham he was moved on and left in January 1987 after a grand total of 186 games and 21 goals.
His anti-Arsenal comments were not heard at first – but it is fair to say that when they started they were utterly focussed on Mr Wenger. These anti-Wenger complaints reached an outrageous peak in 2012 and in August of that year he was sacked by Arsenal from his then job of co-commentating on Arsenal TV. Quite how he ever imagined he could get away with it on Arsenal TV is unknown. By the time he left many fans were demanding he be removed.
But Bob Wilson certainly did his bit as on 26 February 2013 he was quoted on Goal.com as calling Stewart Robson “bitter” over his criticism of Mr Wenger after Robson stated on the BBC, “I hope it [Wenger’s exit] is sooner rather than later because I certainly won’t miss him because Arsenal have been going down the wrong road for quite some while.”
With Robson then saying that Mr Wenger didn’t have “an actual game plan” Bob Wilson said, “This is a guy who worked for this club up to a few weeks ago, doing the pre-match stuff on the opposition, who then went to a newspaper, without naming anybody who had given him the so-called facts about him [Arsene Wenger] being a dictator,” Wilson told the BBC. “Today, he’s been on every half hour on Radio Five Live, and this is a guy who obviously is a bitter guy because he’s no longer got a role or any employment here.”
But although Bob was right about him being bitter over getting the sack, Robson had been using Arsenal TV to promote his wild theories for some time before his sacking. Of course, there is such a thing as journalistic integrity and honesty to your views, but that normally implies resigning from an institution that supports the man you think is an idiot, not being paid by it. Robson promoting Anti-Wenger propaganda at Arsenal TV was rather like me working for the right-wing Daily Mail and putting forward a vision of socialism.
But of course, Robson didn’t only use Arsenal TV to put forward his views. On Sky Sports News on December 13 2012, he had described Arsene Wenger as “a dictator” whose “time at Arsenal should have ended years ago.” He said that Mr Wenger “has a lack of tactical nous which is costing points every year.”
Robson, citing no evidence at all through his rant, told Sky Sports News that the manager had a reluctance to listen to his backroom staff. Referring to the defeat on penalties by Bradford, Robson added, “It was a poor performance, but one I’m not surprised about. Time and time again Arsenal don’t earn the right to play, and tactically (Bradford boss) Phil Parkinson showed he’s a better coach than Arsene Wenger.” [Parkinson is now coach of non-league Wrexham].
“I’m more embarrassed with the way Arsene Wenger conducts himself these days. He doesn’t do any tactical stuff on the side of the field, they tell me he doesn’t do too much work on the defensive side in training, yet he’ll have a rant at everybody else.
“There’s backroom staff that will challenge his decisions – Steve Bould, Neil Banfield, Terry Burton – but they can’t challenge him because he’s a dictator in many ways.
“Why isn’t Steve Bould doing more coaching? Because – time and time again – I don’t think Arsene Wenger sees the danger. When the team are making mistakes he doesn’t rectify them, and the reason he doesn’t rectify them is he doesn’t know what the mistakes are.
“In my view, it was time up three or four years ago. The fans have stuck by him, they always say ‘in Arsene we trust’, that can’t be the case anymore. Tactically Arsenal are all over the place at times, they’re under-prepared defensively, and if you have that you’re always going to lose several football games in a season and not win trophies.”
Now such a wild rant would probably be enough for most people, but Robson, knowing he would get wall to wall coverage by the anti-Wenger media continued into the summer of 2013. The Independent, for example, on Friday 07 June 2013 reported that Robson was now suggesting that, “Manager Arsene Wenger should not be trusted to spend Arsenal’s summer transfer budget.”
Speaking to Talksport on the same day, Robson said, “I am not expecting any marquee signings at Arsenal. There is a lot of talk about it, but I don’t know if I would trust Arsene Wenger with that money. Over the last few years some of the players that he has said we’re going to be world-class haven’t ended up like that – people like Philippe Senderos, Denilson, Marouane Chamakh, Armand Traore, Sebastien Squillaci, Nicklas Bendtner, Carlos Vela, Emmanuel Eboue, Park Chu-young, Lukasz Fabianski, Gervinho and Andre Santos.” [This is of course nonsense. There is no record of Wenger calling these players ‘world class’, and one could put together a list of players who didn’t become world-class but who signed as backups for Premier League teams.
“Over the last two seasons, they have spent some money on Olivier Giroud, Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta, Nacho Monreal, Per Mertesacker and Andre Santos. They haven’t been top-class players.
“Arsene Wenger doesn’t appear to want to sign the top-class players, or what other people would describe as top-class players. He goes out and says: ‘I can buy you cheaper players for a better price who are going to be world-class players in the future, but that hasn’t been the case in the last few years. Some of the players who he has bought have regressed under him like Andrey Arshavin and Thomas Vermaelen. Nacho Monreal hasn’t been a good signing…” (Just to be clear and to give one example, Vermaelen was bought for £5m and sold for £15m to Barcelona).”
So bizarre and outrageous were these statements that it was probably only because of their rank stupidity that no one actually bothered to sue Robson for slander.
Of course, by then Robson was yesterday’s goods. I think we might also add by way of possible explanation the disappointment Robson had, not just by not quite making it as a top player at Arsenal because of his injuries, but also not really developing his management career after a brief sojourn at Wimbledon and even briefer time at Southend. He was also technical director of Rushden and Diamonds before their collapse and from then on confined himself to “commentary”. And indeed maybe he became so bitter because of his failure to get football work after he stopped playing.
He was then heard working on other TV channels and doing some overseas commentaries, where his wild rants could find a new audience. There appears to be an awareness that even those media outlets who were desperate for anti-Arsenal and anti-Wenger quotes realised that Robson was hardly a viable spokesman for the Wenger-Out lobby and thus his chance to rant in the UK has been diminished as most broadcasters and serious newspapers had less and less to do with him.
Robson’s case is one of the saddest of all for an ex-player. He could have worked for the club and done some other broadcasting too, but he was left with the unique selling point for his “talents” of having been “sacked by Wenger for speaking out”.
But it wasn’t the speaking out that did him, it was the rubbish that he spoke about without any supporting evidence.
In fact, Arsenal showed enormous forbearance in putting up with him for as long as they did. Had he been an employee of mine he would have gone the moment he said his first anti-Wenger comment on Arsenal TV. But maybe that’s just me and my old fashioned values. I don’t think you criticise your boss in public and keep your job.
For details of the videos sorted by club, and videos in the order we published them, plus our 21 golden great videos please see here.
100 Years in the First Division: the absolute complete story of Arsenal’s promotion in 1919.
Henry Norris at the Arsenal: There is a full index to the series here.
Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever
Arsenal in the 1970s: Every match and every intrigue reviewed in detail.3 December 1949