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The Burnley v Arsenal game was an example of Arsenal under Arteta. At times brilliant and dominating, capable of absurd errors costing them goals, profligate in front of goal, unable to amp up the intensity early enough when needed, and subject to unbalanced and bias calls from VAR. It’s the last point that I want to highlight because it’s becoming troublesome for the integrity of the game.
VAR worked as it should for Burnley on the late penalty decision and the red card – it overturned it. However, it failed in its duty to award Arsenal a penalty for handball earlier on – an obvious one and a decision that even Peter Walton found “surprising”.
Yet it isn’t really that surprising. When taking a holistic view, Arsenal’s history with VAR in the UK has been nothing short of outrageous. Off the top of my head alone, I can think of 18 (EIGHTEEN) controversial interventions or non-interventions by VAR that disadvantaged Arsenal. These are all situations where you regularly see VAR act in favour for other teams in identical circumstances.
22 Sep 2019 Arsenal 3-2 Villa
Maitland-Niles is sent off for a challenge that wasn’t even a foul. A strong but clean tackle followed by the Villa playing standing on him.
21 Oct 2019 Sheffield 1-0 Arsenal
Strong and obvious shirt pull on Sokratis in the box – no penalty given
27 Oct 2019 Arsenal 2-2 Palace
Arsenal’s winning goal disallowed after VAR decides Chambers committed a foul. The only foul was on Chambers
18 Jan 2020 Arsenal 1-1 Sheffield
Pepe clearly brought down in the box – no penalty given
7 Jul 2020 Arsenal 1-1 Leicester:
Nketiah receives red for serious foul play after VAR intervenes. Possibly warranted but the exact same foul (or worse) is committed by Tarkowski for West Ham v Burnley (that same night) and only gets a yellow
Vardy kicks Mustafi in the face (with obvious intent when you see the replay) and yet no red is given
16 Jul 2020 Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool
Alexander-Arnold commits a dangerous foul on Saka – no red is given
29 August 2020 Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool
Keita commits a dangerous foul on Nketiah – no red given
23 Sep 2020 Leicester 0-2 Arsenal
Saka is clearly fouled in the box – no penalty given
28 Sep 2020 Liverpool 3-1 Arsenal
Mane elbows Tierney in the face – only a yellow, no red
Jota scores after clearly handling the ball (contact well below t-shirt line) – it must be ruled out according to the rules but it isn’t
25 Oct 2020 Arsenal 0-1 Leicester
Laca has a goal disallowed – VAR said Xhaka was interfering with play whilst offside because he was blocking the keeper’s vision. He wasn’t anywhere near and was not interfering with play at all
30 Jan 2021 Arsenal 0-0 Man Utd
Fernandes rakes his studs down Xhaka’s calf and achilles – no red given
2 Feb 2021 Wolves 2-1 Arsenal:
Luiz given a red card for accidental contact with Wolves player, who goes down before shooting. Wolves player throws his leg backward in stride and it catches Luiz’s knee. Not rescinded on appeal. Compare this with Bednarek’s red v Man U on the same night for the exact same offence, which was overturned on appeal
6 Feb 2021 Villa 1-0 Arsenal:
Saka brought down by the last defender. Ref gives a yellow and VAR does not intervene. Compare this with Jagielka’s red on 3 Mar 21, Sheffield v Villa for a similar situation that was even less of a goal scoring opportunity
No penalty awarded against Martinez when he hauls down Laca in the box. Replays demonstrate it was not 50/50. Martinez grabs Laca’s shirt and hauls him over
14 Feb 2021 Arsenal 4-2 Leeds
Saka brought down in the box. Ref gives a pen and a yellow to the defender. VAR overturns this despite one replay angle clearly showing contact and the foul
6 March 2021 Burnley 1-1 Arsenal
VAR says no handball in the second half but it clearly was
All 18 have individually been subjected to questions and complaints by pundits and by the media. Also, maybe not all 18 are 100% egregious. Sometimes, even when it’s 80/20 your decision, they go against you. However, it’s the aggregation – 18 of them – which is most troubling and yet this never gets a mention by anyone.
The most worrisome thing is it’s simply not probable that such a level of inconsistent VAR application can be due to incompetence or bad luck alone. Is it corruption? Is it another form of conscious bias? Or is it simply unconscious bias? It’s impossible to tell without investigation but I’d say such an investigation is now long overdue.
What is Xhaka for?
When we bought Xhaka for a lot of money from the German league he was top of the table for league bookings. “Mid-field enforcer we thought excitedly” but it turned out he was leading the table for bookings because he was rubbish at tackling and not the fastest so occasionally needs to foul players to stop them. Under Wenger the solution was to stop him trying to tackle. So we now had a non-tackling midfielder who doesn’t create that many chances, doesn’t intercept that many balls, isnt fast enough and doesn’t score much [though they are good when he does]. Then under Emery they tried to use the one skill he has that the rest of the team really doesn’t – accurate long passes and the brains to know when to try them – he really is quite good at them. This meant pushing him closer to our defence and unfortunately what happened in the last game isn’t unusual when he is allowed close to the Arsenal box, again remember he isn’t that productive near the opposition box. At least Emery encouraged him to tackle again and to be fair he has improved that part of his game, sure still not great but credit where it’s due. What is really making Xhaka look bad now is Partey, who is everything Xhaka was supposed to be and more. That it took 5 years from the signing of Xhaka to get someone like Partey really shows the problems that I have had with the board, Wenger, Emery and the Arsenal recruitment department generally. I really don’t blame Xhaka for being who he is and he does try but I do wish he was that someone at another club. Though again, to be fair, he is a genuine mid-table midfielder and we are currently a solid mid-table team.
Murray (Xhaka will rub my face in it by scoring a hat trick in the Europa final against us next season)
It is always interesting how the result of the match will completely change one’s view to how it played out and how good, bad, lucky or unlucky each team actually were. Arsenal, Leno and Xhaka were the Early Losers, and yes Leno and Xhaka were at fault for a silly goal – and yes Arsenal also wasted chances, but if Arsenal are given, as they should have been, one of the clearest hand balls seen all season late in the second half they likely win the game 2-1 and the narrative is about Arsenal having a deserved win despite trying to throw it away and Arsenal managing to find a way to win away from home to back up the good away win at Leicester and maintain the positive run in to some crucial games. So on the basis of a single atrocious referee decision we go from Arsenal being praised again for a dominant away win to Arsenal being criticised again for sloppyness and mistakes. By all means blame Arsenal for the parts of the game they are in their control but that blame needs to be shared equally with the officials. There should always be an element of forgiveness for the on field ref as he gets one view, in real time and may not always have the best angle, but why is the VAR ref not quickly overturning that. We ask for consistency, and of course that can be difficult when different referees are asked to make subjective decisions. We would hope that at the ref meetings with the overlord Mike Riley that some degree of consistency can be bought in to subjective decisions by agreeing on guidelines. We can also appreciate it may be difficult for the same referee to have consistency from one game to the next as the game can be different. But in the Arsenal v Burnley game we had a referee who deemed 2 hand ball decisions both completely wrong in the space of 5 minutes of each other, the fact that VAR only overturned 1 of those decisions is damning for whoever was the VAR ref.VAR has on the whole given us more correct decisions, as frustrating as it has been I don’t think it can be denied that a more decisions have been correct, but what it has also highlighted is the absolute shocking standard of the referees we have to put up with in this league because of the number of clear decisions that are having to go to VAR to be corrected – or not in Arsenal’s case.
I’ve seen it mentioned a few times that Arsenal made a mistake selling Martinez in the summer but I thought F365 were able to wade through the headline and realise why it was done. Your early winners article notes that it did seem a sensible decision to stick with Leno rather than a guy who performed well for 10 games but goes on to intimate Arsenal have egg on their face for selling Martinez. The facts are that Martinez forced Arsenal’s hand. He demanded to be number 1 or leave. It may have seemed like Arsenal had a decision to make but there was really only 1 thing they could sensibly do. The options were:
1) Make Martinez No.1 and sell Leno – there were no buyers unlike Martinez where there was £20m on the table
2) Make Martinez No.1 and keep Leno. This means an unhappy Leno with a decreasing value and no Partey or no Gabriel
3) Make Leno No.1 and keep Martinez. Martinez is unhappy and leaves for free in 2021 and no Partey or Gabriel
4) Make Leno No.1 and sell Martinez for the money that was there and ready to take and use that money to strengthen the squad in other areas.
Option 4 is the only sensible way Arsenal could have gone.
If we kept both GK and therefore couldn’t have Gabriel signing in defence we’d have Mustafi or Sokratis in our defence all season. I think it’s obvious what the stronger squad is.
There’s lots to criticise Arsenal for in the transfer market but taking £20m for a sub GK who has played 10 games and was barely worth more than £3m 12 months earlier is not really one of them. We’re finally seeing pragmatic and sensible decisions to squad building that prioritise the long term and also address the here and now.
Martinez is a very good GK, so is Leno. Martinez has also made mistakes that have cost goals and points this year – West Ham game. He’s also saved a lot. The top 4 gk in the league this year for consistency and lack of errors are (in no particular order) Ederson, Leno, Martinez and Schmeichel. What is the point in Arsenal having two of the best 4 GKs in the league when only 1 can play and have so many holes in the squad that needed plugging?
I was going to write in about the incredible handball decision but then I saw your piece on Martinez. Can we stop this narrative please? I am getting bored to death of the Arsenal made a mistake selling Martinez and not keeping Leno as number one.
Firstly, Leno has also been one of the best keepers in the league. We have conceded just one more goal than Aston Villa despite having inferior performances. If you watch our goals it’s evident that Leno is one of the few players keeping us from relegation material, as individual errors time, including from our defense, put Leno in terrible situations.
Secondly, yes Leno was the safer choice. Martinez had played a dozen good games vs Leno who until his injury had again been one of the best keepers in the league and over 100 starts at Senior level. He was a goalkeeper that Arsenal had already invested heavily in, paying 26m as well as 100k per week wages. Martinez, if he had become number one would have needed a big pay rise and we don’t have the money for 2 high wage goal keepers. We got a very rare 20m for a, bar a dozen performances, second choice goalkeeper with just 15 senior starts. In hindsight it was cheap but nobody called it a bad deal for either party at the time.
Thirdly, that money got us a world class midfielder, a player we had to fulfil a cash release clause for. We’ve been unfortunate with his injuries (how very Arsenal) but we needed top class midfielders desperately. In fact we still do (thank you Xhaka…) but the bigger hole was filled rather than have 2 goalkeepers angry they aren’t number 1.
Even knowing everything we know now I would do the deal again. Arsenal wouldn’t have been able to sell Leno mid CV19 and you can’t have 2 first choice keepers. If football was as simple as the media suggest it is, then it would have been great to have Emiliano, but it isn’t. So we have one of the best keepers in the league instead of one of the best keepers in the league. We have more than enough problems without worrying about who is between the sticks and that 20m was more useful to us than another top class goalkeeper
Rob A (if we could stop beating ourselves that would be great…) AFC
Just wanted to send a quick email to hold my hands up about how wrong I was about Arteta and his incompetence and unsuitability for a big job. To see Arteta, having spent almost £100m over summer (Partey, Gabriel, Willian’s galactico contract)…to see him being just 2 points off mathematical Premier League safety with three quarters of the season gone, is astounding! As a few Arsenal fans mentioned, looking at that table, it’s impossible to compete with the likes of Moyes’ West Ham, Villa, Spurs, Everton and Leicester. Being 4 points clear of their true London rivals Palace, 27 points off top spot, and out of the race for top 4 (in a season where ManYoo are mediocre, Chelski had to change manager, Mourinho is trying to wreck Spurs and Liverpool are trying to lose at Anfield every week)…Arteta has really scaled the heights. The view is beautiful in 10th place! Who else do you reckon would be able to perform better than Arteta with his constraints? (And no don’t say Moyes and Dean Smith please. No facts here!)
Stewie Griffin (10th is the new 4th)
Good episode of Arsenal this week.
Redknapp for Liverpool
At what point do the whispers about Klopp and/or Edwards being removed start? Surely, it must be soon. Yes, Liverpool are suffering an unprecedented injury crisis that probably negates any possibility of a title challenge, but there has been a series of self-enforced mistakes that have turned a bad situation into a disaster.
The original sin was starting the season with only three senior centre-backs of which two have very questionable injury records. This mistake was compounded by completely fluffing the Jan transfer window and panic buying Kabak and Davies. The cherry on top was signing Thiago. He evidently does not fit the Liverpool system at all. He slows the play down and offers nothing but thumbs up and yellow cards.
The Liverpool squad looks utterly bereft of confidence. The system needs a shake-up. Typically, that would involve the manager getting replaced. Obviously at Liverpool that is hard. Klopp has a lot of kudos in the bank, and there isn’t an obvious replacement. Allegri is probably the only top level coach currently not employed, while Kop favorite Benitez could potentially act as a useful stopgap.
Personally, I’d love to see Harry Redknapp given the opportunity to manage Liverpool. Obviously, it would be a disaster, but the idea of him yelling at Salah and Van Dijk to “kick and run harder” is magical.
It’s over for Klopp
Cards on the table first, I am a Spurs fan who still carries a torch for Poch. That having been said, I can see the similarities between Poch and Klopp. Both employed an exhausting, high pressing style of football that is effective while the team are hungry, young, haven’t won anything and it is still a novelty. The difference is that Liverpool have/had better players and have therefore achieved much more. Either that or Klopp is a superior manager – that is for people far more knowledgable than me to decide.
Anyway, with the exception of Pep, who has unlimited funds to spend and has already burnt himself out once, this approach is not sustainable. So in my view we need to recognise that the fun, optimism and sheer joy of the football that these managers bring is fleeting and youth/novelty dependent. To Liverpool fans I say, enjoy what you had for a bit, it ain’t coming back under Klopp. To Spurs fans I say, it was so close, but let’s be honest, it was so much fun, remember that?
Note, both Poch and Pep have had a long sabbatical, never thought I would want PSG to win the Champions League.
FSG to blame
Liverpool’s 0-1 defeat to Chelsea will ensure the reds will struggle to qualify for the CL! Failure to do so will see them suffer huge financial losses, and they forget bout Mbappe! All their star players will abandon ship too! There’s no chance they will play at a club with no CL football!
Who’s to blame? The owners FSG for loving money! Their greed led them to mismanage the club in an injury crisis, forcing Klopp to ruin their formidable play-style by playing players in wrong positions.
For thei penurious ways, the owners had the audacity to cite it’s for ‘sustainable growth’. What a joke! Instead of growing, they are dragging the club to terrible depths which they may never recover from.
It’s time for Liverpool fans to return to their long-suffering ways.
So Saith Sovereign King Darren (no.1 video game collector cum ManU fan in Singapore)
Na Na Na Na Naaah
I like that Liverpool fans are now asking the questions that I asked a week ago and got a scolding for. Not a ‘Na Na Na Na Naaah’ moment, I was just expecting them to be more critical when it was warranted. Only took five straight home losses..
Also JB nailed what I was probably making a bad point of, if you have to sell your best players to finance making your team better, and you still don’t have the depth to compete efficiently then It would appear there is a gap. Again, not historically or reputably, just financially and powerfully.
Called Chelsea with Tuchel. Well not Tuchel but I thought they just needed a quality coach as they have the premier leagues most outrageous squad, Man City the most complete, but Chelsea has more depth and potential.
Man Utd are pretty dire at the moment. Dare I say it but we really are missing Pogba. I noticed a few weeks ago that when he and Bruno where in the team and doing well, it was Pogba who steels the light. Even though Bruno is our most important player, he never has that same megastar aura as Pogba. Even with the media, it’s like a bad Pogba story is worth two good Bruno ones.
That also said no player has been so wishwashy in recent memory. No player in my lifetime of football support has made me love and hate them so much. Sell him or new contract? I still can’t decide.
I’ll end on a VAR note. I think referees are the same as before VAR. Mistakes were made and we would all go crazy about how the ref missed it or how they thought it was/wasn’t the right call. Now we get to stop so they can do the same things all over again.
The issue therein lies in what the rules are and how they are applied by referees. Football has an insane amount of variables that are likely to occur in a game that it is next to impossible to truly have a ruling on everything and although they have tried, the rules are still too ambiguous and leaves a lot to perception.
This is we’re it is tricky because as we saw earlier in the season, referees were applying the law as written and you then had players putting a hand on someone and it’s a penalty. If applied too strictly it can become remote, where players are playing the rules and not the game.
Referees probably rightly or wrongly don’t get enough attention or credit for how they individually can have such power over games, teams and seasons.
But like the Burnley call today, if applied correctly you get your justice.
Calvino ( You guys should make a referee ladder)