I’m one of those who strongly believes Arsenal suffer the most at the hands of referees. I realize there are others who would think such issues balance out over the course of the season and that all teams get their share of good and bad calls from the man in black. Supporters of other teams might have their own light to shine on this issue. Somehow, I find all that extremely hard to digest.
This season is only five weeks old and we’ve already seen decisions that range from dodgy and strange to the inexplicable and downright outrageous.
Against Sunderland, a Nasri cross struck Ferdinand on an outstretched arm. Phil Dowd allowed play to continue. The defender was just a couple of yards away so the explanation offered was that it was ball to hand. We’ve seen it given both ways; and even though I personally believe an outstretched arm in the penalty area should be penalized irrespective of intention, I can accept the decision of not awarding a penalty.
In contrast, when United visited Craven Cottage, Damien Duff scuffed his clearance and his own shot hit his arm; as unintentional as it can be! Only thing was, Peter Walton pointed to the spot.
It’s a different matter that we got another penalty but failed to score and the draw at Sunderland was not down to the Ferdinand handball incident. Similarly, the fact that Nani failed to score his penalty and United went on to drop two points is irrelevant to this discussion.
The simple point is the inconsistency in decision making by two vastly experienced refs.
Song was sent off against Sunderland for two bookable offences. Technically both bookings were understandable. One was for dissent and the other was for a block, which I thought was not that bad, but it could be perceived as cynical. However, in most cases, especially against us I’ve seen players get away with a final warning. There was no such leeway for Song. It was as if the ref was just waiting for a chance to send him off. This is even more relevant because Bramble wasn’t booked for a much more dangerous and cynical challenge in the same game.
Again in contrast, O’Shea blatantly hauled Torres to the ground in the game against Liverpool. He was clearly the last man. The ref allowed him to get away with a yellow card. It’s a different matter that Gerrard scored from the penalty, the telling impact came when O’Shea provided the assist for the winner. 2-2 with United down to 10 would have been very different.
Once again, the issue is with consistency and we can see a trend here.
Sunderland scored against us in the fifth minute of four added on. Technically it’s possible to accept that the ref added a few seconds for whatever reason. But if we consider the fact that it’s the same Dowd who didn’t give us a penalty for the Ferdinand hand ball, who sent Song off, and who didn’t book the Sunderland players in the same way; then we begin to wonder what’s going on.
United, on the other hand, got away at Everton when the ref blew his whistle even though the hosts were on the attack with a numerical advantage. In that game Everton had scored a couple of goals in the stoppage time and there was just cause for adding extra seconds. The ref chose not to.
This is consistently inconsistent decision making by all the refs involved and clearly in favour of one team and against another.
I understand that it’s not easy to make the right decisions all the time. Some decisions are difficult to make in real time and some are debatable even after a number of replays. But we do hear a lot about the use of common sense while refereeing. Based on what I’ve said above there seems to be a generous use of common sense as far as one team is concerned, while the other faces the harsher end of the stick.
In this discussion I’ve not even brought in issues like the fouls by Kevin Davies, the horror tackle by Paul Robinson and so on. If I look at Arsenal games just to pinpoint refereeing decisions I’m sure there will be many more contentious calls.
On the whole I get a feeling the refs try to be lenient with the rough tackling teams when they play Arsenal. Not sure if they believe, consciously or subconsciously, these teams have to be allowed to get away with their dirty fouls just so that they can compete. Similarly, it seems Arsenal don’t get as many penalty decisions probably because we create so many chances from open play. The refs might be seeing it as a way of balancing the game.
I’ve long since held the opinion that Arsenal need to win despite the refs. Just like the others stakeholders in an antiquated footballing environment in England, the refs seem to have a bias against Arsenal. I know this is a complicated topic and it’s hard to prove anything conclusively but it’ll take a number of clear examples to make me change my opinion. Barring that, generalizations like – “it all evens out in the end” – are very difficult to accept.