“Weak and bullied,” was how Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher described Arsenal’s defending when Brentford scored its second goal in the newly promoted team’s 2-0 victory.
“This is pathetic,” tweeted Arsenal fan Piers Morgan. “We’re being bullied off the park by a team of players who’ve never performed in the Premier League.
“Even by Arteta standards, a new low,” added Morgan referring to the Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta. “I can’t do this for the next nine months.”
Carragher’s comment and Morgan’s tweet might be brushed off by Arsenal’s hierarchy as a passing media storm, but the fact that Rwandan President Paul Kagame was moved to tweet three times after the Gunners’ defeat is arguably more embarrassing.
Not least because Arsenal’s jersey had ‘Visit Rwanda’ emblazoned on the sleeves.The Visit Rwanda website says Arsenal is the organization’s sleeve sponsor, while French club Paris Saint-Germain is described as a “premium partner.”
The partnership also allows the East African country to “gain global exposure through branding on matchday LED boards at the Emirates Stadium [Arsenal’s home ground], all the interview backdrops and a broad range of other marketing rights,” according to the website.
“Brentford deserved to win and they did,” tweeted Kagame, who in the past has described himself as a “committed fan” of his “beloved club Arsenal.”
“The game itself aside Arsenal and the fans don’t deserve to kind of get used to this,” continued Kagame, who went on to criticize Arsenal’s transfer strategy.
“It’s been a struggle of about decade(s) — ups&downs — more downs until this point. Can’t we have a plan that really works?? One part to look at is how we deal in the market — players we buy to execute the plan. The touch&go mentality does not bring change.
READ: Man Utd signs Varane; thumps Leeds as Fernandes scores hat-trick
Under former manager Arsene Wenger, Arsenal won the Premier League title in 1998, 2002, and 2004 and clinched seven FA Cups. Arsenal won the league and FA Cup Double in 1998 and 2002.
Wenger was Arsenal’s manager for 22 years before he stepped down in 2018. He was succeeded by Unai Emery and Arteta, but the club’s drift has continued.
Arsenal announced a three-year tourism partnership with the East African country in May 2018.
“The media has been speculating around £30 million but what I can tell you it’s not £30 million ($41.5 million), it’s less than that,” CEO of the Rwanda Development Board, Clare Akamanzi, told CNN at the time.
“Thirty-five million people (will be) viewing their (Arsenal’s) shirts every single day,” Akamanzi said.
READ: Ditching Man Utd to support my local team. Now they’re in the Premier League
When the sponsorship deal was announced, critics said the money should have been spent alleviating the chronic poverty in the country.
“I think when millions of Rwandans are living on less than a pound a day ($1.28), that’s fairly obscene,” UK Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen told CNN at the time.
“The public have a right to know how our aid budget is being spent, and the people of Rwanda have a right to know how their president is spending their money.”
Arsenal did not respond to CNN’s request for comment — by phone and email — on when and whether the sponsorship deal had been renewed and Kagame’s criticism of the club’s transfer policy.
However, the East African website reported the deal had been extended until 2023.
Visit Rwanda didn’t respond to CNN’s request for comment about the partnership deal.
READ: Lionel Messi’s 20 career defining moments
‘Blame the owners’
This isn’t the first time Kagame has tweeted about Arsenal.
When Wenger stepped down as manager three years ago, Kagame said “this should not have been the kind of ending of an era.
“The coach is leaving and club trophy-less it was long coming! I am still a committed fan going forward. Blame the owners.”
The relationship between Arsenal and Rwanda has also raised eyebrows given allegations of systemic human rights abuses in the East African country
“Football has spent the past decade being bought and sold by sovereign states, used to puff, gloss and scour international reputations. What’s another friendly despot? wrote the Guardian’s chief sports writer Barney Ronay, who pointed to Human Rights Watch assessment of Rwanda.
“The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) continues to target those perceived as a threat to the government,” according to Human Rights Watch. “Several high-profile critics have been arrested or threatened and authorities regularly fail to conduct credible investigations into cases of enforced disappearances and suspicious deaths of government opponents.”
The Rwandan government hasn’t responded to CNN’s request for comment in recent reporting regarding attacks against its critics.