In the game against Villa, we all saw that a blatant offside decision against Carew, that led to the first goal for the home side, was not given.
I assume most readers know the ruling well enough so I don’t have to explain in detail why the Villa striker was offside. As we can see from the following image, Carew was blocking Fabianski’s vision and thereby interfering with play. The fact that he was injured does not have any bearing on the decision.
The most surprising part of this goal was that the linesman’s flag never went up. As I said in the match report, I can’t quite understand why that was the case. It’s not his job to judge whether a player in an offside position is in front of the goalkeeper or not. From his viewpoint there is no way a linesman can make that call. The correct thing for him to do was raise the flag and let the referee decide. As we can see in the image above, the ref was in a good position to see that Carew was right in front of Fabianski.
The most disappointing part of this goal however, was that no Arsenal player complained about the offside. It was as if they just didn’t have the presence of mind at that moment.
Now let’s look at the third goal for the Tiny Totts. The light and dark shades of grass make it easy for us to see difference between the location of the foul and one where the free kick was actually taken.
It’s clear from the above images that Van der Vaart stole 10 yards or so and created a much better angle for himself.
Obviously, the responsibility to ensure that such a freekick is taken from the right spot is with the match officials. But if they don’t get it right, surely some Arsenal player must be alert to the situation and to the dangers of allowing the opposition to sneak forward?
These are small issues but they can make a big difference at the end. If the Villa goal had been disallowed that win might have been a lot more comfortable. If Van der Vaart had delivered from a different angle we might have defended it better. If it had been 2-2 with five minutes to go, who knows what the final result might have been.
I’m trying to think of why Arsenal fail to focus on such issues. It’s not because the players are dumb or don’t care. That’d be a stupid argument. I feel the following explanations make some sense.
Firstly, there is a problem with the language. I’m not sure players like Arshavin, Song, Rosicky, Chamakh, and some others can talk to the ref in fluent English. That would make it very difficult for them to express their opinion. But this might be an excuse for other issues, it cannot be an excuse for the above two cases where they just had to say offside or point to the correct spot for the freekick.
Secondly, there is a general problem of perception against the Arsenal players. If they’re seen talking to the ref I see a lot of criticism in the media whereas other players get away with it all the time. This also affects the refs and sometimes our players are unnecessarily and unfairly punished when they try to talk to the ref or his assistant. This, when combined with the first issue, might be preventing them from approaching the referee.
Thirdly, there is the problem of confidence. Right now, after some poor results at home and in the Champions League, Arsenal players seem too concerned and hesitant when they’re under pressure. This undoubtedly affects their speed of thought in situations like the ones I mentioned above.
When Cesc is on the pitch he does a decent job of talking to the ref but even he is not really cut out for such a role. Sol Campbell was IMO excellent at this. But right now we don’t have many players who can just keep chatting with the ref and ensure that the men in black aren’t making any glaring mistakes.
In some ways we have to live with the fact that the officials will make mistakes and more often than not the decision will be against Arsenal rather than the opponent. I don’t think this can be completely eliminated. But if we have a couple of players on the pitch who can maintain their focus on refereeing decisions and develop the art of talking to the referee, it could make a vital impact on our title challenge.