What an odd this weekend has been, it’s like there were two Sundays because of New Year’s Day and then the actual Sunday. Does that make today a double Monday? It definitely feels like it a bit.
Anyway, it’s cold light of day stuff today for me. The intensity of the frustration after the final whistle on Saturday (Sunday 1) has more or less dissipated, and it’s easier to be analytical about things. I still find myself hugely encouraged by most of what we did against Man City, it felt like a real step forward, and the sort of unexpected nature of that performance is like a belated Christmas present or something.
As I said yesterday, there is something brewing at Arsenal right now, and how we can continue to develop this team is going to be so important. I wonder about the January window and how, if it’s at all possible, the right kind of signing might be absolutely the thing we need. We’ve already seen the summer signings come in and do well, there’s a sense of togetherness within the squad, but also healthy competition. Maintaining that, adding to it, could be just the thing.
It’s tough though, for all the obvious reasons, but we also know there are big decisions to be made sooner rather than later. We have three strikers whose futures are unclear; there’s room in central midfield for one more anyway – especially as Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Mohamed Elneny are more or less sitting in the departure lounge; and if the right player could be found this month, it would signal real intent. I don’t want to just leap straight to transfer stuff after such a promising performance, but top four is far from impossible this season if this team can continue its trajectory, and I just wonder if these encouraging signs might see us try and do something now to really drive us towards that kind of finish.
Going back to the City game, a couple of things that we discussed on the Arsecast Extra are worth mentioning. First, the Gabriel sending off. I think that is the quintessential example of why football should consider a sin-bin system. The game had got heated after the penalty incident. Gabriel lost his composure a bit, but let’s also talk about the referee’s composure, he was wound up too. It was an obvious foul by the Arsenal man, but did it really merit the punishment? We’re down to 10 men against the best team in England for over half an hour, and he is suspended for the next game. It feels too harsh for what it was.
When you think about how much money football fans spend on their season tickets and associated match-day costs; when you consider the money people pay for their TV subscriptions (and you need about five of them these days to watch all the games), and how much the broadcasters pay for the rights to show football in the first place, the in-the-moment drama that a red card produces isn’t sufficient for what it does to the spectacle of the game.
I thought we acquitted ourselves really well with 10 men, and when you consider what happened last time we played City after a red card, it’s another reason to be encouraged by this Arsenal team. However, it radically skewed what was a great game of football until then. How much better would the referee (well, a good referee anyway) have been able to manage that situation if could have shown an ‘orange card’ (for example), and sent Gabriel to the sin-bin for 10 minutes? We have a temporary problem, censured because of the foul play, but not to such a great extent. The punishment does not fit the crime in cases like this.
That kind of reform will obviously lend itself to issues of subjectivity when it comes to decision making. What’s the line between a second yellow and an orange etc? But, as much as possible, referees should seek to keep games of football 11 v 11 unless there’s no other choice. Their influence on the outcome of matches is too great, and players are routinely being sent off for things which they really shouldn’t be (while others get away with very obvious red cards, but that’s a whole other story). We should be thinking and talking about how changes to how games are officiated would improve the quality of football matches. This kind of thing, to me at least, is far more important than a World Cup every two years – the ‘change’ to football that nobody really wants apart from the organisation that stands to profit to the tune of billions from it (oh Arsene, what are you doing?).
As it stands under the current rules, Gabriel should have managed the situation better, but surely things like this, and the furore around the referee/VAR can spark intelligent discussion about how we can improve officiating. We shouldn’t simply accept that this is the way that it is, and just get on with it. Clearly it’s a difficult job, and referees get abuse that must be hard to take, but it’s not helpful to dismiss all criticism and examination of what they do because of that. Help the officials and you help the game by extension.
I also believe that some of the frustration felt by Arsenal fans about the officiating against Man City comes from a series of incidents this season which have felt particularly egregious. James McArthur getting just a yellow for booting Bukayo Saka; Ben Godfrey standing on Tomiyasu’s face and VAR deciding that’s not a red card; Maguire on Tomiyasu at Old Trafford. The first two are exactly what red card offences should be, and in both games we ought to have been playing against 10 men. Instead, we took one point from six. Yes, we have to manage games for what they are rather than what they should be, but I do feel that played a part in how intense the ire was during/after the City game.
There’ll be plenty to talk about during the week, I’m sure. We have a cup semi-final to think about too, so lots to get on with. For now, I’ll leave it there this morning, and if you haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast, all the links you need are below. Have a good double Monday, back for regular Tuesday tomorrow.