Thursday, June 20, 2024

Webb of lies


Is it just me or is the Kai Havertz song an earworm of epic proportions? It’s been going around in my head all weekend. The Arsenal songbook in recent times has really had a renaissance of some kind. Is there a hidden Lennon and McCartney at work somewhere? Well, not quite that, but co-opting other songs to support players.

The Beatles. Shakira. Spandau Ballet. Vanilla Ice. The Champs. Who’s next? It’s so eclectic. Jurrien Timber returns to be serenaded by a reworking of Harry Styles’ Watermelon Sugar (Jurrien Timber HIGH!), or Jakub Kiwior gets a song which is based on an obscure Belle and Sebastian B-Side that was only available on limited edition 10″ vinyl? You just never know these days.

It’s pretty quiet this morning, but we’ll have all hands on deck preparing for tomorrow’s Champions League tie against Lens. The team will travel today, there’ll be a press conference later on, and we might get an idea of what the manager is thinking in terms of his team. Tuesday to Sunday leaves lots of time to recover and prepare for Man City, but it’s probably more about who is affected by the Saturday to Tuesday element of the grind. Maybe some of those who started at Bournemouth aren’t ready to start again as quickly. In all likelihood, Arteta won’t give much away, and the actual team selection on Tuesday night will tell us more.

Meanwhile, the refereeing nonsense carries on after the PGMOL apology for the horrendous error in the Liverpool game on Saturday. The Mugsmashers have released a statement, saying:

We fully accept the pressures that match officials work under but these pressures are supposed to be alleviated, not exacerbated, by the existence and implementation of VAR. It is therefore unsatisfactory that sufficient time was not afforded to allow the correct decision to be made and that there was no subsequent intervention.

That such failings have already been categorised as “significant human error” is also unacceptable. Any and all outcomes should be established only by the review and with full transparency. This is vital for the reliability of future decision-making as it applies to all clubs with learnings being used to make improvements to processes in order to ensure this kind of situation cannot occur again.

In the meantime, we will explore the range of options available, given the clear need for escalation and resolution.

This is really interesting when they talk about a need for escalation. Where could this potentially be going? And to what extent should Liverpool pursue this? If they felt the need to go further, could you really blame them? Think back to our game against Brentford last season when a PGMOL error potentially cost us two points (there was still time for other stuff to happen in that game, to be fair). I suspect there would have been widespread backing had the club decided to kick up more of a fuss, but we took the hit. The decision on Saturday didn’t guarantee Liverpool a win, but it changed the complexion of a game they lost, which then saw them have another man sent off who now faces a ban he wouldn’t have picked up if the goal had stood.

Now though, I think patience with the standard of officiating is at an all-time low. How many times can an organisation apologise for its incompetence before someone says ‘Hey, maybe we need to do something different here?’. You can’t just keep making egregious errors and then issue a statement and carry on as before. If you use these mistakes to raise the standards, then I think everyone would be more than understanding of that. Instead, as I said yesterday, it’s worse than ever before, and under Howard Webb’s watch, these officials are making decisions which cost teams vital points with a frequency that is just unacceptable.

It doesn’t help matters when the officials involved in this latest blunder were refereeing a game in the UAE just 48 hours before the biggest Premier League game of the weekend. Given the world we live in, some will go down a conspiracy avenue given the ownership of Man City etc, but even leaving that aside, is that the right preparation for match officials in the richest/biggest/’best’ football league in the world? Why do they need to do that?

Going back to Howard Webb, his media blitz at the start of the season is something I mentioned here and on the podcast a couple of times. It was clear from listening to the broadcasters that they had agreed to hammer home the PGMOL line on the new edicts about time-wasting, yellow cards for kicking the ball away etc. That was evident across the board, there was PR being done. Webb did a program with Michael Owen to show the processes involved in VAR decisions. He appeared on Sky Sports more than once, and in truth, it was instructive.

It showed that he was more interested in the media profile of his job than anything else. All this focus on time-wasting showed a complete lack of understanding of issues which truly vex football fans. Nobody likes time-wasting, but going that heavy (so many yellows, and a red for Tomiyasu, remember?!) on something as trivial as all this was essentially just a way to look like you’re doing a lot but in reality it’s the officiating equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. Questions about whether VAR is fit for purpose can’t be separated from the same question about the PGMOL itself.

This latest egregious error, on top of all the others, on top of the Mike Dean revelation where he admitted to not making an obvious decision to protect his ‘mate’, has completely undermined both the trust in officials and the sporting integrity of the Premier League. The audio from Saturday should be released immediately, in full. Let people actually hear what went on, because I don’t believe the explanation they put out. Then something has to give, because these officials could be the difference between winning something and not; between European football or not; between staying up or going down – and all the consequences that has financially and in terms of people’s livelihoods. Not just players and managers, but staff at clubs who have to pay the price.

It seems everyone’s jobs are on the line but theirs, and that surely can’t be allowed to continue.

Right, I’ll leave it there for now. James is back from his holidays and we’ll have an Arsecast Extra for you a bit later on. Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

For now, keep humming that Havertz song.

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