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A Look At Arsenal’s Referee Problem


Arsene Wenger once said, “If I die, I am going to ask God where the referees are before choosing between heaven and hell”. Although Wenger left Arsenal in 2018, the distaste in referees certainly has not left the Emirates and if anything, has been aggravated this season. As Arsenal sunk to a draw against Leicester in the rain on Tuesday night, the officials dominated the headlines yet again.

Two key refereeing decisions dictated the match and ultimately decided the outcome. The first was completely ignored by VAR, much to the anger of Mikel Arteta. The flailing boot of Leicester player Jamie Vardy struck Shkodran Mustafi in the face and looked to be an unfortunate mistake at first look but under closer inspection was unnatural and warrant of serious foul play. The second came in the 75th minute as Arsenal fought to protect their one-goal lead.

Eddie Nketiah, only four minutes after coming on for Alex Lacazette, went in late and high on James Justin and was dismissed after a lengthy VAR review. Ultimately, these two decisions decided the fate of the game. Jamie Vardy would go on to score Leicester’s equaliser, getting away from Mustafi who undoubtedly felt the sting from the result added to the sting of the stud-sized cuts on his face.

Unfortunately, dodgy refereeing decisions have not been uncommon in Arsenal’s fixtures this season. Sokratis would remember his winner against Crystal Palace being chalked off due to a ‘foul’ in the build-up by Calum Chambers which involved the Arsenal defender poking the ball before being tripped by multiple Palace defenders. Sadly, despite this being arguably the most baffling and worst VAR decision of the season, it is only one of many poor decisions that have taken away points from Arsenal this season.

Another came earlier in the season, also affecting Sokratis. Arsenal faced Sheffield United away at Bramall Lane and had a corner in the sixth minute. As the Greek centre-back tried to get away from John Egan, his shirt was tugged back, preventing him from making good contact on the ball but nothing was given by Mike Dean or VAR. If this was not bad enough itself, Arsenal had conceded a penalty to Liverpool only nine games before, a foul for a shirt-pull that consisted of arguably less contact than Egan’s.

Mike Dean managed to officiate the reverse fixture as well, incredibly managing to give another game-defining decision against Arsenal. A foul on Pepe in the box, ignored by Dean and reviewed by VAR with no penalty given.

Taking into account the most blatant incorrect decisions that have gone against Arsenal this season and the general assumption of the impact on the final score-line, it is estimated Arsenal have lost out on 14 points. 14 points take Arsenal four points clear in third. Arsenal have been one of the worst affected, but by no means are they the only team to suffer at the hands of poor refereeing this season.

Sheffield United, despite being on the good end of the before-mentioned decisions, have been affected massively. The worst decision of all coming after the restart of the league was in a game against Aston Villa. Oliver Norwood’s first-half free-kick was adjudged to have not crossed the line and was not reviewed by VAR, despite clearly being over. The game finished 0-0. Goal-line technology was introduced into the game to prevent this common problem, but apparently ‘failed’ in this case.

It’s impossible to sum up all the problems with the officiating in this country, but to give a brief attempt would be to outline the insane inconsistencies and the staggering incompetence of not only the officials on the pitch, but also those operating the VAR.

Change simply must come, but it will not be easy to provoke. Managers are rewarded with fines for speaking out about the quality of officiating and the most the FA can offer in cases of wrong decisions, is a confession that is accompanied by nothing else.

One must wonder when the weekly calamities will become ‘too much’ for the clubs in the Premier League and organised action is taken out. Coherence, competence, and consistency are required as soon as possible, or the Premier League runs the risk of having its yearly winner decided by the people who officiate it.

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