Sunday, January 29, 2023

Mikel Arteta’s ‘red card shame’

With lots of talk of our disciplinary issues and red cards, I thought I’d look up the stats for this season. I expected us to be top of the table – and we are! – but it’s tighter than you might expect up there.


The only team not to have had a red card in the Premier League this season is Burnley, which is quite funny really. The archetypal English team, big, burly, physical, and yet they’ve gone something like 500 years without having a player sent off. No, me neither.

In total this season we’ve had 5 red cards, the other two came in the EFL Cup games against Liverpool when Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey got their marching orders in successive legs of the semi-final. The Partey one came so late and at a point where the game was basically over that it didn’t matter – the consequences of that one were felt in the next game against Burnley for which he was suspended. Xhaka’s was a physically costly sending off because we had to play for an hour at Anfield with 10 men against one of the best teams around. He also missed Burnley.

In the league, I think Gabriel’s against Man City was the costliest. When Xhaka was sent off early in the season, City were already 2-0 up and in complete control of that game. Being reduced to 10 men after 35 minutes when they’re in that kind of mood obviously contributed to the final scoreline, a painful 5-0, but I don’t think it really had an impact on who was going to win that game.

I don’t think that was the case for the second game, because we were playing so well, we should have been 2-1 up (Gabriel Martinelli had just missed that glorious chance to score), and all of a sudden we were a man light. When you look back on that now, the booking for dissent or scruffing the penalty spot (whatever it was), is the one that we had most control over. I think his second offence was a second yellow, no question, real heat of the moment stuff, and unfortunately we couldn’t hang on to take at least the point we deserved that day.

I’ve had my say on the Martinelli one from Thursday night, and I won’t change my mind on that. I’m with Mikel Arteta when he says an official has to want to send someone off to do that. It was a referee making the moment about himself rather than thinking first of the game or the player. If he’d given him a yellow and a talking to, I don’t think there’d be any outrage that there wasn’t a red card shown. Maybe by some Wolves fans, but frankly who cares what they’d have had to say?

When we think about our red card problem, it doesn’t seem quite as acute as it felt yesterday morning, or during those final 20 minutes at Molineux. Afterwards, Arteta was asked what he could do about all the red cards we get, and said with a half smile:

“I’ve run out of ideas.”

The subtext was that this was something out of our control, but subsequent press conference comments about speaking to ‘officials’ seemed to suggest, to me at least, his focus isn’t entirely on our red cards:

“You ask me if I’m happy with the decisions that we have had this season, I’m not, at all, but that’s a conversation I’ll have with the officials, privately.

“We need explanations, we need explanations for things that happened with VAR and explanations for today.”

I understand his focus on the Martinelli red, but I think he’s talking more about the red cards that weren’t given to the opposition than the ones we’ve received. The two obvious examples are James McArthur in the Crystal Palace game when he booted Bukayo Saka into orbit and somehow only got a yellow, and Ben Godfrey stamping on the face of Takehiro Tomiyasu at Everton and get away scot-free, not even a booking. Those are games we should have managed better, no doubt about it, but also ones in which we should have been playing against 10 men for a considerable period.

McArthur on Saka took place in the 43rd minute, Godfrey’s boot in Tomi’s face in the 30th minute. We can obviously have regrets about what we did and didn’t do when it was 11 v 11, but I can understand if Arteta is frustrated that we don’t ever get the same benefit of the doubt that the opposition do. I’m not suggesting there’s any conspiracy, but it certainly feels like we always get the maximum punishment, and others get away with things we never do.

As for what we can do, I thought Andrew made a good point on the Arsecast yesterday, and that ties in with the kind of improvement we’re hoping to see with regards our performances in general. If we’re better and more in control of games, there might be fewer incidents which require the referees to brandish their red cards. Even if they do, being a couple of goals up rather than just one makes it easier to deal with. The final 20 minutes at Wolves shouldn’t have been as hairy because it probably should have been 2-0, but Lacazette curled his shot wide.

So, in conclusion, I don’t think this is some kind of unsolvable mystery, nor do I think we have a massive problem with discipline even if we have had too many red cards under Arteta. Yes, we can be a bit daft at times, but that’s relatively simple to get on top of, and in Premier League terms, we’re not miles worse than anyone else. Obviously our chances of ending this season well will be improved if we play with 11 men every week, and I’m sure the manager will be hammering home that point to his players on the training ground.

And you never know, maybe in one or two of our remaining fixtures, we might find ourselves the beneficiary of a red card decision and … hahahahaha …

… hahahaha …

…. hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha …

… ooooh ….

… hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha …

… sorry … couldn’t keep a straight face …

Enjoy your Saturday.

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