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Video’d kill the referee tsar

It’s been a week to get the pulses racing. If the deserved late win against Mercenary City was a night out at a strip club with John Bonham and Shane McGowan, Wednesday’s win against Wolves had the air of soothing satisfaction of a night in with a bottle of Blue Nun, pizza, ice cream and a rom-com. These twin delights have been seasoned with occasional peppering of outrage.

The Football Association can always be relied upon the tickle the taste buds of righteous indignation. Elsewhere, heads are served up on silver platters. The hostile brand of self righteousness practised by some Liverpool fans, coupled with the mischief making of the media sees a reasonable question (that almost nobody has even deigned to answer) become front page fodder. The little vein in my forehead has spent a good deal of the last seven days dancing the watusi. I tell you, my John Terry voodoo doll has taken a real hammering.

I’ll begin with the lighter, fluffier side of life. Sunday’s win over City was sweeter than a Tullamore Dew milkshake. There was something very instructive about our winning goal and about the man who scored it too. It’s surely not an enormous coincidence that Arsenal have lost the only two league matches Arteta has been unable to start since his signing. I think his role has been well appreciated by Arsenal fans this season, so it was apposite to see him step into the soda lights with a big winning goal.

But the manner in which he scored it was telling too. In the 87th minute, he was still prepared to harry and press opponents in their own half. At the risk of sounding simplistic, in all of Arsenal’s best performances this season we have executed that facet of the game excellently. In all of our worst the failure to respect that tactic has been notable. I genuinely believe the success that this team can achieve in the future hinges almost entirely on how consistently we are prepared to activate a high octane pressing game.

There is an art to knowing when to press, which areas of the pitch to press and when to plug any gaps left by colleagues. For all of their cuntery, it’s an art Barcelona have down to a tee. But largely, it comes down to simple application. Elbow grease. Are we prepared to do it in every game, to every team for a whole season? The team is settling and a lot of the kinks appear to be ironing out. We’re spreading the goals around the team now, our reliance on van Persie no longer so pronounced. We have some competition in key areas of the field too – which hasn’t always been the case over the last couple of seasons.

Integral to this gradually emerging symphony has been Wojciech Szczesny. Two of Arsenal’s great frailties have been set-pieces and long balls over the top. Our organisation from corners was of playground standard this time last year. This season we have been nowhere near as susceptible and I think Szczesny’s positivity has been key. But the Pole in the Goal is ideally equipped to handle long balls through the middle. He’s strong and positive from his line.

Compare the assertive race from his line to deny Balotelli on Sunday with indiscretions of our previous custodian here and here. I know he can cause anxiety with his distribution, but a whole generation has passed since the backpass law was introduced. The modern goalkeeper needs to be good with his feet and Szczesny’s pass completion stats are way above most of his contemporaries. That’s important in a team like Arsenal that builds from the back. Sometimes it can put your heart in your mouth, but it’s preferable to simply humping the ball downfield straight back to the opposition centre halves.

Staying with the City game, how bloody funny was the impromptu Poznan that followed Arteta’s winner? This picture, via @beardedgenius on Twitter, cemented the comedy. There was an attempt to revive it at the Molineux which, thankfully, didn’t really take off. Terrace wit is as its best when it’s spontaneous and unchoreographed. Continuing to wheel out the same joke over and over dilutes the hilarity. The irony was, many around me at Molineux tried to start it after van Persie’s penalty and, as a direct result, completely missed Walcott’s beautifully crafted effort less than two minutes later.

Moving onto more spleen baiting elements of the week past. We have the insular old dinosaur club that is the Football Association providing equal measures of daftness and mirth. I think the whys and wherefores have been covered rather emphatically on this site and elsewhere. What’s clear is that the F.A. is actually creating animosity towards its own referees by holding them up as infallible. In our more sober moments, I’m sure most supporters realise that it’s an unenviable, difficult job and we accept that not every call is going to be correct.

I won’t go into the argument around technology because, frankly, I can’t be arsed and I’m still undecided myself around its in game application. But when presented with a chance to administer retrospective justice for violent conduct, I just can’t see any reason not to act. The lie around of legislative restrictions has been exposed on this site and elsewhere too.

Some argue that retrospective action undermines the referee’s authority. I think their authority is more undermined by the erosion of respect that occurs when there exists a refusal to admit (understandable) errors and administer justice. The organisation is creating an atmosphere of hostility and mistrust all by itself. Many also argue that retroactive punishment puts us on a slippery slope to a kind of video replay nanny state, where entire games are resketched days after their conclusion.

It’s been over 23 years since Paul Davis was handed a 9 match ban for busting Glen Cockerill’s jaw on the basis of video evidence (when do we start calling it DVD evidence, by the way?) Other countries have handled punishing violent offenders and I don’t see Orwell’s eye in the sky as a 5th official or robotic super linesmen punishing thought crimes on football pitches. There is room for incidents such as Balotelli’s dangerous assault to be treated appropriately without us tripping the light fantastic to the 51st state.

So why do the F.A. refuse to act under the guise of bureaucracy? What are their motives for their staggeringly uneven application of retrospective action? Is it incompetence? Fear of opening a can of technological worms? I’ve even seen some question whether corruption is afoot. (Though bloggers, particularly in Britain, should be wary here. Libel laws in the UK are some of the strictest in Europe. Particularly where the subject of corruption is concerned). My own view is that it’s pure idleness. The F.A. remind me of the BBC. A smug, chummy golf club of an institution very secure in its cash lined bubble.

Simply, dishing out adequate suspensions, dealing with subsequent appeals, outlining rationale, close analysis of incidents. It’s quite the hassle. Why would they bother? They oversee one of the most cash yielding industries on the planet. The clubs run themselves as independent businesses. The Premier League and the Football League are self governing. There’s not a great deal of leverage for them in potentially upsetting the apple cart.

Poor publicity and media outrage are the only agents of change as far as they’re concerned. They don’t seem to be accountable to anybody else. So long as the boss has their back turned, why not get your feet up on the desk and spend eight hours a day reading about the continuity errors in Sam Peckinpah films on IMDB? When the headlines start screaming and the boss re-enters the room, you simply minimise the screen, bring up that excel spreadsheet you had open in preparation and vaguely pretend to look busy until the boss man leaves again.

Anyway, that will do from me for this week. I hope you enjoyed the column. Who knows? Maybe it will be front page news this time next week, as our society of increasingly hysterical offence junkies comb through and sheer it of all context- desperate for their next sweet fix of outrage. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

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Tim Stillman

Tim Stillman

Bedroom blogger and professional Arsenal fan. Victory through sanctimony.