"Best League in the World, worst officials": Wolves 2-1 Arsenal
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
Ugh. There aren't many occasions where I sit down to write one of these post-match pieces and devote the entire narrative to the refereeing performance. However, after yesterday's officiating horror show, speaking about anything else feels somewhat redundant. Later in this piece, our tactical analyst, Vinay, will address some of the good things we saw from our side in the first half (not enough relevant tactical analysis from this corrupted game to merit an entire article), but with my job to focus on the broader narrative, there really feels like nothing else I can delve into.
First off, I don't buy into the conspiracy that the entire officiating department has a vendetta against Arsenal Football Club because of Arsene Wenger's beautifully cynical quote about choosing heaven or hell depending on where referees end up. There's victimising yourself and then there's believing there's a widespread corrupt agenda against an entire institution based off of a petty throw away interview comment.
However, I do feel there may be a subconscious bias from the officials towards the opposition when Arsenal play. Historically, Arsenal haven't been complimentary towards referees and we've also created a reputation of being reckless on the pitch or trying to con officials. Thus, whilst I'm not suggesting the officials go out to deliberately sabotage us with woeful decisions, I do feel they may have a level of leniency towards other sides that they don't hold with us. Before every opposition fan jumps on the 'every team gets bad decisions so it levels out' train, it does genuinely feel like we are disproportionately effected by them and very rarely benefit from them the other way round.
There are countless examples of games in the last few seasons where absolutely objectively diabolical decisions have cost us. Not decisions in which the law is subject to opinion. Not decisions which could be considered a 'grey area', but situations where the literal rules of the game have not been implemented, even with VAR monitoring them. If there are opposition fans reading this and questioning it, I could quite easily delve into these instances one by one and prove it, but us Arsenal fans all know what I'm addressing. Conversely, there are very few instances where we have benefitted from obviously wrong decisions.
Last night was another example of us being absolutely robbed. After an impressive first half display where we asserted ourselves territorially, limited Wolves to only threatening from corners and looked very threatening ourselves going forward, Craig Pawson and VAR thought they'd fuck us over. Yes, we should have shut the half out and instead we fell asleep defensively. However, after initially adding an extra minute onto the two minutes of injury time (despite very few stoppages in the first 45 minutes), Pawson then went onto to produce a spectacularly bad call.
Willian Jose was played through on goal and due to his long legs flailing about in his strange running style, his trailing leg was lifted up and thus his heel collided (very minimally) with David Luiz' left knee, as the Brazilian ran back to try to keep up with the new Wolves man. No movement from Luiz to try and impede the striker. No deliberate action to trip him up and not any action to try and win the ball. Just an unfortunate collision as Luiz ran forward. Penalty? Possibly. He may not have meant to do anything, but the collision did prevent a goal scoring opportunity. Red card? Absolutely no fucking way.
They say intention plays no part in decisions. However, the literal Premier League rulebook states the following:
"The Previous 'triple-punishment' rule meant that a player who denied a goal-scoring opportunity was automatically red-carded and handed a suspension, as well as giving away a penalty. However, the law has now changed so the players committing accidental fouls, that deny a goal-scoring opportunity, are not automatically sent off, but cautioned instead".
Nobody on planet earth can watch that clip back and tell me that collision was not accidental. Thus, this is another example of the rules literally not being implemented properly.
Referees are often excused for not being positioned well or not having the benefit of a replay quite ridiculously at times in my eye, if they're not positioned well to see an incident, that's literally poor refereeing. However, now a days they have the support of VAR (or are supposed to). VAR's role is literally to overturn 'clear and obvious errors'. According to the Premier League's own rule book, this should indeed have been deemed a clear and obvious error. Yet, somehow those sitting at Stockley Park came to the conclusion that they were happy with the decision Pawson had made. Insanity.
David Luiz' reputation should have absolutely no role in this. If Rob Holding was the one who's knee accidentally collided with Jose's heel, then I can envisage no sending off. As Tim Stillman put it on Twitter, "Peter Walton pretty explicitly uses Luiz' reputation as a reason to send him off in his analysis of the incident on BT.' David Luiz has done this before.' Irrelevant, you judge each incident on its merits."
What exacerbates how infuriating this decision was, is the way people have tried to justify it.
"He made no movement to play the ball."
So essentially, if he'd slid in from behind and taken Willian Jose out cold, he'd not have been dismissed. Or if he'd just given up chasing back and not risked the very low likelihood of Jose moving his legs weirdly and frantically and thus causing a minimal collision with his knee, he'd not have given away a penalty and not been sent off. So, a message to defenders when strikers are clean through on goal, either completely give up and stop or produce a spectacularly reckless sliding tackle from behind and injure the player badly. As long as you made some movement towards the ball, you'll be alright.
It was quite evident that this decision drastically changed the momentum of the game. I firmly believe it cost us all three points. It's really not good enough.
Last night, and the general officiating atrocities that seem to plague this sport and this league in particular week by week, highlight the need for reform and radical change in this department. Not enough is being done to eradicate these inconsistencies that are costing teams dearly time and time again. VAR could be a solution, if it wasn't operated by a bunch of absolute morons. The incompetent Mike Riley needs to do something.
As Patrick Timmons wrote last night on twitter; "If a player has a bad run of performances, they're dropped. If a manager has a bad run of performances, they're sacked. If a referee has a bad run of performances, business proceeds as usual. The only profession who aren't accountable for their shortcomings".
If you're looking for a secure profession, refereeing is a good career for you. You'll never, ever be fired, no matter how badly you perform. The general mainstream media are often too quick to protect referees, because it's 'a hard job', but they're quick to criticise managers when they're awful, and football management is widely considered to be the most difficult job available. Why is this?
Tactical Analysis (by Vinay Shankar):
Tactically, it was a great first half to watch as Arsenal’s attacking play was positive right from kick-off. Wolves are generally a very passive team that tend to sit back and absorb pressure and were a team low on confidence. Setting up in a back four is a relatively new system for them as they struggled to cope with Arsenal’s direct approach.
It was a half where Alex Lacazette and Emile Smith-Rowe weren’t involved too much as Arsenals’ attacks were all from the flanks. It was all about creating overloads, quick one-twos to open up the spaces and play the ball in behind for Bukayo Saka and Nicolas Pepe to attack the full-backs. Cedric Soares and Pepe seem to complement each other on the left and Saka is always a threat with the ball on the right side.
For the first 20-30 minutes, the passing was quick and precise as the Wolves defence was being carved open with great ease. Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka seem to be developing a great understanding in the middle and the Ghanian’s passing range was on full display in this period. What happened after the 45th minute was the most Arsenal thing to happen and for the sake of everyone’s health, the less said about what happened after, the better.