Actions speak louder than words
By Mac Johnson (Deputy Editor)
There's a common phrase in football that a draw feels like a loss when you know your team should have won. However, I think it's quite rare that a win feels like a loss too. And yet, here we are.
Gabriel Martinelli's red card against Wolves has left Arsenal's fanbase and many pundits and critics reeling, and I can't disagree with them. Arsenal walked away from Molineux with three points, and deservedly so, given the run of the game between Gabriel's scrappy tap-in and his countryman's sending-off, but the manner in which the 20-year-old was dismissed has people pouring over the rule books, in an attempt to find some justification of why Arsenal did not finish the match with 11 men on the pitch.
In all honesty, this article is going to be a bit confusing, and I'm alright with that. The Wolves match was confusing in the extreme, not to mention stressful, and while I hope this article doesn't have y'all breaking out into hives, I have two topics to cover, and they're quite different.
The first action that spoke louder than words was the refereeing of Michael Oliver tonight. From the off, he avoided two actions in the opening ten minutes that, had they occurred any later, would have warranted yellow cards. Another opportunity, less egregious, presented itself in the form of Thomas Partey twenty minutes after then, and he took it, which confused me. Not exactly starting as you'd mean to continue.
The rest of the first half remained incident free, but in the second, as Wolves got increasingly frustrated and started chipping at the ankles and shins of Arsenal players, Oliver remained notably silent, calling a few of the nastier ones, but mainly letting contact go, despite the fact that only one side was initiating it, that being the men in orange and black.
A soft yellow card for time wasting later on Gabriel and a deserved rejoinder for Ruben Neves after a late slide left many Arsenal players slightly miffed at the state of affairs, especially as the rough-and-tumble antics of the game escalated. And then, a thunderbolt from the blue. Dressed in blue. Wearing lightning patterns. You get it.
Gabriel Martinelli got one of the weirdest red cards I have ever seen in football. Having attempted to interfere with Daniel Podence's throw, believing the ball to be his, Oliver called the foul and textbook yellow, and played advantage. Wolves winger Chiquinho took off the opposite way, and Martinelli followed suit, barging him from behind in what was a second yellow card offense.
Oliver whistled the play dead, and proceeded to give Martinelli two yellow cards in one passage of play, a move never before seen in Premier League football by most accounts. Here is the official FA ruling and legalese on the practice of playing advantage.
"If the referee plays the advantage for an offence for which a caution/sending-off would have been issued had play been stopped, this caution/sending off must be issued when the ball is next out of play. However, if the offence was denying the opposing team an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, the player is cautioned for unsporting behaviour; if the offence was interfering with or stopping a promising attack, the player is not cautioned."
Let's read that last line, together, aloud. If the referee plays an advantage, as Oliver did, the booking should be issued once play stopped. No problems there; Martinelli received his first yellow justly. If the offence was stopping a promising attack, the player is NOT CAUTIONED. The second yellow issued to Martinelli goes in direct breach of the FA's own refereeing rules, and he should not have been sent off by the rules of the sport.
Whether you construe this regulation to pertain to the first or the second yellow, both of which were earned for attempts to stop promising attacks—one can hardly call a throw-in or a one-vs-four chance an obvious goal-scoring opportunity—the second yellow cannot and should not be given.
The actions of Oliver are unprofessional and unwarranted, and I think Rio Ferdinand and Mikel Arteta said it best. Arteta, per CBS Sports, has vowed to speak to the Premier League over a red card which, in his words, you have to "want to give." And Rio, even more poignantly, had the following to say. "He wants to be in the news the ref, doesn't he? So harsh. The first, you can say it's a yellow. But the second one, especially in the same phase or sequence, I just don't feel it warrants another yellow card. No chance."
Red cards for a spectacle aren't a rarity in the Premier League at the moment, unfortunately, but this is the first time I can think of that a red card was issued in direct breach of the FA's rules for the pure purpose of spectacle. For shame Michael Oliver. Your actions speak volumes.
As for the second action to which I refer, I'll keep it brief. This team showed fight, grit, and determination to outlast 30 minutes with 10 men against a top-heavy Wolves side with a glut of attacking talent. No matter what words you have for the referee or about the match, the tenacity shown by Arsenal today was like nothing I've seen from this team in a long while, and that action screams far above the decibel level of s***ty refereeing. On a day where wins feel like losses, they never stopped fighting. That should be lauded, Michael Oliver be damned.