Sunday, September 24, 2023

Man Utd preview : thoughts on VAR/officiating

After an interesting day in the Premier League yesterday, Arsenal go to Old Trafford this afternoon to take on Man Utd.

There were some injury concerns after the Villa game, with Martin Odegaard feeling the effects of a heavy kick to his ankle, and Aaron Ramsdale seemingly feeling his hamstring. At his press conference on Friday, Mikel Arteta said that Oleksandr Zinchenko hadn’t trained so there was obviously some doubt about him, but it looks like all three have travelled with the squad.

With Europa League action on Thursday, I don’t think we’ll see too much different today from the team that won on Wednesday. Albert Sambi Lokonga should keep his place in midfield, unless the manager tweaks things. We’ve heard talk of Zinchenko playing that role, and I guess it’s possible, but it might be a risk based on his fitness. Beyond that, unless we see Takehiro Tomiyasu for Ben White, I can’t see any changes unless injury dictates.

As for United, I think they’re clearly a long way from what they used to be (and what they want to be), but also that their start to the season was a bit overblown. The Brentford game, hilarious as it was, was just a bit of freak and since then they’ve won three in a row, including a big one against Liverpool.

It is going to take time for a new manager to get the team the way he wants it, but they’ve brought in genuine quality in Casemiro, and today’s midfield battle will be interesting. We’re a bit light in that area, and at home where the decisions tend to be a bit more generous, it’s something we’re going to have to reckon with.

However, although our record there hasn’t been good, Arsenal should go there with some respect, but not fear. There’s been a lot to be encouraged about in the five wins we’ve had so far. We’ve played good football, scored some fantastic goals and looked much more potent in attack, there’s solid platform at the back, and we’ve shown we can deal with some in-game setbacks too.

Mikel Arteta wants a positive mindset too, referencing the time it’s been since we won at Old Trafford:

I don’t want any of my players thinking that way because they are good enough to go out and win the match. It’s not something new. We’ve done it, we have to do it again and we have to believe from today, yesterday and straight after the game that we are capable of going there and playing how we want in the match.

Whatever happens today, we’ll stay top of the league, but a draw or a win extends our lead and that’s got to be the target. When you look at the two sides so far this season, it’s probably not unfair to say we go into this one as slight favourites – even if United are at home. That creates a bit of pressure in itself, so let’s hope we can deal with that, and if we can perform the way we have in our previous games, there’s every chance we come back to London with a decent result under our belts.

I referenced the interesting day in the Premier League yesterday, and Man City dropping points to Aston Villa is part of that from a football perspective. But once again, the officials are in the spotlight after some quite incredible VAR decisions.

How on earth West Ham’s late equaliser was chalked off, I have no idea. Look at it – there’s no reason whatsoever for VAR to disallow this. The goalkeeper has already made the mistake, he’s acting because he knows he’s messed up and is gambling that technology and the weak officials will save him.

And in the Newcastle v Crystal Palace game, Tyrick Mitchell clearly pushes Joe Willock into his own goalkeeper before the ball rebounds off the Palace defender and into the net. Somehow VAR looked at this and thought it was a foul on the goalkeeper. I just don’t know how to explain it.

These decisions are completely and utterly absurd. Perhaps if they were made in ‘real time’ without the benefit of multiple replays from multiple angles you could understand them, but they weren’t. Human error is always going to be a thing, and I get it when people say it’s not VAR that’s the issue but the people using it.

Which means we absolutely have to question the people using it, and what exactly they are using it for. The technology may be fit for purpose, but the officials are not. The abysmal refereeing standards we’ve come to expect in the Premier League sink further and further, and in the end it’s damaging for football.

I said this on Twitter:

Microscopic analysis of every goal to try and find a way to chalk it off is surely not what VAR should be used for. Why even celebrate a goal any more until you’re 100% sure that someone’s toenail isn’t .1 of a cm beyond the size of a digital line, or what is possibly a  minor foul in the build-up doesn’t require play to brought back? You know the kind of foul that referees are now being told to ignore so they can ‘let it flow’? Well, they’re still using those fouls to disallow goals.

What is this? Why are we doing it? And why are we allowing the game of football to be so dreadfully impacted by the PGMOL, a group of men who remain unaccountable to anybody but themselves? Anyone who can’t see this is a big, big problem is simply unwilling to do so, and I can’t lie, I fear the worst today because … well … why wouldn’t you? The consistency of these abject decisions means almost every game is being influenced to some extent.

It’s also quite something to see the largess of the Premier League play out in nearly £2bn worth of transfer fees this summer. It is the richest league in the world and every week too much of the conversation is about the poverty of the officiating.

Right, that’s it for now. As always we’ll have live blog coverage of the game of you, as well as all the post-game stuff on Arseblog News. James and I will also be recording the Arsecast Extra for you later on this evening, so until then, have a great Sunday.

Catch you later for the game.

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