Thursday, September 29, 2022

VAR from the maddening crowd

Morning all.

It’s pretty quiet from an Arsenal perspective, bar the announcement of a first professional contract for highly rated young winger Kido Taylor-Hart – the latest emergence from our double-barrelled surname production line. He’s an exciting prospect whose future was in some doubt because of the contractual situation, so tying him down is good news and presents another player with the potential to make the jump from the Academy if his development continues at the current pace.

Now Per Mertesacker and his team just need to think about Stanton Joseph-Gordon, Lloyd David-George, Lewis Day-Danielson, and Barnaby Stingwing-McDonald. Good lads, all have a great chance.

So, what lies ahead this week? Well, we’ll wait for news on Thomas Partey’s injury, and there was some mild panic last night when his representative Tweeted:

You’ll surely be back stronger and the comeback starts from now!

As Arsenal Twitter descended into a chaos, with bodies strewn everywhere, and a zombie army feasted on corpses of those who didn’t make it, he sent a follow up which said:

Let me clarify my earlier post. It never meant #5 ❤️🐙 will be out for long, enough of the panic please 🙏.

Strong emoji game in fairness, and while I suppose we have to take him at face value, it’s still not that calming. You don’t have a comeback without being out for at least a while, and ‘long’ is all about perspective. Three weeks might not be long in terms of the 4.5 billion year history of the earth itself, but when you’re starting the season with early games against Chelsea and Man City, it feels pretty long to me.

Anyway, hopefully we’ll get some information on that soon, and hopefully it has made the club sit up and realise that one injury leaves us in a tricky position. It’s clear that Mikel Arteta, like Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery before him, really rates Granit Xhaka – although that both men are part of the history of Arsenal rather than its present might also be something to consider. Which isn’t to say Xhaka was the reason for their respective departures, but he was certainly in the mix.

I guess another thing to consider is that we did buy a promising young midfielder this summer, and while he might need some time to settle, it’s not impossible that Albert Sambi Lokonga could save us from the underwhelming Xhaka/Elneny start to the season (if Partey misses out). I know circumstances are different, but a couple of years ago an 18 year old who came from Ligue 2 was thrust into immediate first team action for us somewhat unexpectedly, while Lokonga is 21, captained Anderlecht and we paid almost £18m for him. He’s got to be ready enough, surely, even if it’s not ideal? Time will tell, I guess.

Elsewhere, some changes to VAR next season are certainly … interesting. Refereeing despot Mike Riley told Sky Sports:

We’ve introduced the benefit of the doubt for the attacking player so where we have a really close offside situation, we will follow the same process as last year but now apply thicker broadcast lines.

Effectively what we have done is given back 20 goals to the game that were deemed offside last season by using quite forensic scrutiny. So it’s the toenails, the noses of players that were offside – they won’t be offside now.

Maybe it’s just me but the solution to the problems the offside rule presents to the game in the era of pixel-focused accuracy being ‘draw thicker lines’ doesn’t seem that great. Then there’s this bit:

Furthermore, in the first two years of VAR, viewers not in the stadium were able to see the working out process and it led to screenshots of borderline decisions being shared and creating more negativity for the decision-review system.

As a result, all decisions will be made off-screen from now on.

I mean, where do you even start with this? Rather than make the process as transparent as possible, they now won’t show their workings? And they think this will reduce the amount of negativity around decisions?!

At the World Cup a few years ago, and also this summer at the European Championships, we saw how VAR could work pretty effectively and, crucially, without the relentless drama that surrounds it in English football. Those in favour of VAR always talk about how it’s not the technology itself, but the implementation of it and the human element – i.e the officials themselves.

But let’s be honest: VAR has been an absolute shit-show in the Premier League. A horrible mess of bad calls, controversies, and bewildering, inexplicable decision making. It has been presided over by a refereeing authority that is untouchable, out of date, and determined to be more involved in the story of games than it should be. Mike Riley should have been out to pasture years ago, yet he remains, sadly, influential. Not in a direct sense, but PGMOL officials and their performances have too often failed to stand up to the mildest scrutiny, and remain basically unaccountable.

And their solution: thicker lines and to not let anyone see what they’re doing. Brilliant. I guarantee another season of nonsense from them and this technology, a lack of consistency in decision making, as well as new and innovative ways for them to make the headlines.

I remember when I played football in Spain, there was a referee who was about 8 stone overweight, who would rock up the games chain smoking Fortunas and eating a sandwich, who never moved out of the centre-circle and just guessed at things like fouls and offsides. I suspect, given his age and his girth, he’s probably dead now, and he’s still better than Mike Riley and his motley crew. Skeleton Ref ftw.

Right, let’s leave it there. If you haven’t had a chance to listen already, we’ve got a brand new Arsecast Extra for you below. Happy listening.

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This Arsecast Extra was recorded with ipDTL

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