Thursday, December 7, 2023

Arsenal statement + PGMOL’s cosy cartel

Morning all. Welcome to a brand new week.

After Mikel Arteta’s comments after the Newcastle game, Arsenal released a statement yesterday backing the manager. It reads:

Arsenal Football Club wholeheartedly supports Mikel Arteta’s post-match comments after yet more unacceptable refereeing and VAR errors on Saturday evening.

We’d also like to acknowledge the huge effort and performance from our players and travelling supporters at St James’ Park.

The Premier League is the best league in the world with the best players, coaches and supporters, all of whom deserve better. PGMOL urgently needs to address the standard of officiating and focus on action which moves us all on from retrospective analysis, attempted explanations and apologies.

We support the ongoing efforts of Chief Refereeing Officer, Howard Webb and would welcome working together to achieve the world-class officiating standards our league demands.

I thought an interesting part of his post-game diatribe was when, on Sky Sports, he was asked if this was something he’d be talking to PGMOL about, and said:

“We’ve been taking it up for months.”

So, it’s easy to get the sense that this is someone who is reacting in the heat of moment, obviously, but also one who has come to the end of his tether with the officiating standards. Perhaps some will think it’s over the top, a classic case of a manager who is a sore loser, and there may well be some truth to that. If we know anything about Mikel Arteta it’s that he hates losing, but he’s usually quite fair in his analysis.

Sometimes he’ll take the blame himself; almost every time he’ll say there were things we could and should have done better in a game that didn’t go our way; he’s not averse to making it clear his players didn’t do enough (see his West Ham comments from this week, where he directly criticised them for not competing); and there have been plenty of times when he has flat-out refused to speak about a referee or a refereeing decision.

But not this time. He’s had enough. He’s not the only manager to speak out this weekend. Wolves Gary O’Neil, who saw his side concede an absurd penalty against Newcastle last week, had to go through that again this weekend when Sheffield United were given a spot kick in injury time. He said:

I’m honestly lost, I don’t know where to go with it. I’m told to go in and have a sensible conversation, but he still watched it telling me it’s a penalty, which tells me we’re in a crazy place.

I can’t help but come back to Mike Dean’s recent comments which continue to be glossed over in a way I don’t think is useful. What he told us went beyond that one incident, and suggested there’s a kind of Omerta among the officials. At best there might be an edict to uphold the on-field decision as much as possible; at worst there are decisions being made for the benefit of the officials rather than applying the laws of the game correctly. The Bruno Guimares forearm on Jorginho feels very much like one of the latter. At a point where the game had been heated up and there was a sense of injustice among the home fans because of the Havertz tackle and the subsequent flurry of cards, is it beyond the realms of possibility that the VAR decision was made to prevent further outcry at the referee? I’m struggling to think of how trained officials can see obvious violent conduct and then ignore the laws of the game.

As for the reaction to the Arteta comments from the pundits in the spotlight, this goes back to something I’ve been worried about since the start of the season. Here’s what I wrote after we won the Community Shield:

On ITV, the commentary sounded like it had been bought and paid for by Howard Webb. Painful stuff.

That is a theme that has continued throughout this season. Are we supposed to take Michael Owen’s view seriously given that he has a paid gig, co-hosting a TV show with Howard Webb? Even that in itself is ludicrous. It is presented to us as a step-forward, as demonstration of PGMOL’s commitment to transparency, but it’s not. It’s a way for Howard Webb and his giant ego to get on television. The fact this show is occasional and not regular tells you there’s no genuine commitment to transparency, and there are myriad ways they could be more open. Let’s have the ability to hear the referees and VAR, the same way the commentators can. Release the audio or the transcripts afterwards. There are tools now that can accurately transcribe hours of audio in seconds. It could all be public if they wanted it to be, but they only want to pay lip-service to transparency.

Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher had Webb in studio. Maybe they’ve been simply been smitten, but the charm offensive element is obvious. Webb saying, “We have a difficult job guys, I’m trying my best, don’t make it more difficult for us.”

Neither, of course, have had a problem going in on officiating when decisions about their own clubs have been in the spotlight. Even when there’s evidence that makes their in-game assertions incorrect, they don’t back down, they double-down. And this is the thing about Arsenal making a statement. Standards will not improve unless there is some kind of consensus. Leave aside the tribalism, leave aside the whataboutery, leave aside accusations of hypocrisy (as if every manager hasn’t said something one week that might be challenged the next). Nothing will improve unless the referees and the man in charge of the referees are properly accountable for their mistakes.

What happens when a PL ref makes an error? He is demoted to the Championship. Which essentially means the punishment is meted out to two ‘innocent’ clubs. Not the official. He still works. He still gets paid. He just does it out of the glare of the Premier League spotlight. It’s a bit mad really.

And look, you always seem to have to caveat this discussion by acknowledging it’s a ‘tough job’, but we’re a point now where that feels redundant. It’s a get-out clause for PGMOL. There are lots of tough jobs out there, far tougher than officiating a football match (and often far less lucrative in terms of salary), and the reality is that if you don’t do it well, you get fired. From top to bottom, from the boss to the lowliest employee, that’s how it works everywhere. Except PGMOL.

Which is why we are where we are.

Right, that’s it for now. We will be recording an Arsecast Extra in a little while. 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.

Podcast should be out around midday.

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