Do Referees Have A Bias Against Arsenal?
Are referees biased against Arsenal? It’s a question that has been asked so many times over the past twenty years and after the game against Wolves is back in vogue. And looking at some of the decisions and punishments meted out I think it’s hard to not think that Arsenal have been treated slightly harsher than other teams.
Most seasons it seems that Arsenal’s disciplinary record is amongst the worst in the league despite being near the bottom in terms of fouls committed. Some of this can be explained by a certain naivety in the dark arts, that our players are not as good at disguising intention, but when watching Arsenal games you do get the feeling that Arsenal players get booked for infringements that the opposition do not. And then you have ridiculous decisions like the Nicolas Pepe booking versus Southampton; booked for taking too long to be substituted and then wasn’t substituted at all, imagine if he had got a second yellow after that.
The above highlights the thing I think is missing the most in officiating – consistency. It’s hard to not feel anger at referees when you see your team get punished for something and the opposition get away with it. If you look at the Wolves game and the David Luiz incident, how is it any different to what happened to Bukayo Saka earlier in the game? Neither defender made a proper challenge but there was accidental contact. One ends up being a red card and a penalty and the other isn’t given.
Inspired by @kickarsehd and @jonnyoneil on Twitter there have been plenty of instances where Arsenal have been punished and there has been talk of a rule change that was being used, only for it to never be heard of again.
- Retrospective bans for diving in Europe – Eduardo was villainized and banned but I don’t think this has happened to any other player since
- Tactical fouling – Granit Xhaka being sent off for a tactical foul on the half way line. Plenty of these challenges have happened since with not one red card given.
- Swearing at referees – Patrick Vieira was sent off for swearing at the ref in what was meant to be a crackdown. How many players have sworn at a referee since and how many have been sent off?
- When being offside isn’t enough to stop a penalty – When they re-interpreted the offside rule to justify giving Harry Kane a penalty
People like to have a go at VAR, because they see it as a faceless, non-human, but ignore the fact that bar offsides, it’s the same officials looking at it on the screen as it is officiating on the games. Every team has had frustrating offside calls go against them, goals being ruled on or off side by the smallest of margins but it’s hard not to feel that even with VAR when the call is subjective then it tends to go against Arsenal, below are just a few examples from many.
- Sokratis’ disallowed goal vs Crystal Palace – ruled out for a foul by Calum Chambers despite it looking like Chambers himself was tripped as he plays the ball
- Eddie Nketiah being sent off v Leicester and in the very next game a Liverpool player doing the exact same thing and staying on.
- The previously mentioned incidents in the Wolves game (Luiz and Saka).
The last one and I would argue the Bruno Fernandes one at the weekend come down to what decision the on field referee makes. If the ref gives a penalty for the contact on Saka then it doesn’t get overturned, and if the referee gives Fernandes a red card I don’t think it gets overturned. And this is where I come to the answer of my initial question.
Are referees biased against Arsenal? In my opinion, apart from that 50th game at Old Trafford, not consciously but I think all referees have an unconscious bias. Arsenal are seen as foreign and whingers so any foul on an Arsenal player is viewed as exaggerated whereas a foul by an Arsenal player doesn’t get the benefit of that doubt. That’s why players like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will, rightfully, get sent off for a bad challenge but do the same challenge to an Arsenal player and it would get a yellow card. This is also why Arsenal don’t get many penalties. Even when it’s an English player going down the first thought of the referee is that the contact has been exaggerated. Referees also seem to judge players on reputations. If Xhaka does that challenge on Fernandes then I would not be surprised to see him get sent off, and if another defender other than David Luiz is involved in an incident last night, like Virgil van Dijk say, I don’t think the outcome is the same. You also see this in how England captains get treated. Alan Shearer got away with kicking someone in the head and now Harry Kane suffers no punishment for his dangerous undercutting and gets many decisions that other players would not.
I believe Arsene Wenger was right every time he criticised referees but I am not sure that has helped us long term. After Eduardo, Wenger rightly called out the kick Arsenal narrative, but after that in the run of eight or so draws, numerous tight decisions went against us, and ultimately ended our title challenge. Jose Mourinho suffered similarly when he criticised the lack of penalties Chelsea were getting. Rather than get more penalties, they started to get less, even the stone wall ones were waved away. Referees, or more likely English referees, do not like criticism and react badly to it, and the Wenger clip going round about English referees and the World Cup has probably not been forgotten.
So in summary I give referees the benefit of the doubt on the bias and say it’s subconscious. I would not give them the benefit of the doubt on their abilities. Every game shows how poor the officiating is in the so-called best league in the world and VAR has served to highlight this rather than make them become better. I will probably look at VAR another time but even if it was taken away, you would still be left with the same inept officiating and this is the problem that most needs fixing.