Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Newcastle 1-0 Arsenal: Fine margins and rotten officiating

Match reportPlayer ratingsArteta reaction 😖Video

Morning. We have a lot to get through, so let me start by saying from the off that I don’t think Arsenal did enough to win the game last night. That said, I don’t think we deserved to lose it either, and the manner of the goal, and some of the other incidents, are frustrating to say the least.

The absence of Martin Odegaard was a blow, the captain picked up a knock in training, unrelated to his midweek cameo, so Kai Havertz started in his stead. Beyond that, the team was as we expected.

I think we played well enough, we kept Newcastle and a raucous crowd quiet, and I’m sure that was part of the manager’s plan. The issue was a lack of cutting edge in the final third, although Declan Rice did his best to make something happen a couple of times with driving runs that unfortunately came to nothing. Overall, compared to our 2-0 win there last season, we had more possession and more shots last night, and it’s worth remembering one of those was an own goal too.

After that, I think we need to look at the game via the prism of incidents, so let’s do that. Starting with:

The Kai Havertz challenge

In the 24th minute, I noted on the live blog that the German had gone down holding his face. We didn’t get any replay from Sky about it. I’ve watched it again this morning, it’s Bruno Guimares who throws an arm back an catches him in the face. One of those were intent is basically impossible to prove, but given who it was it’s likely to have been 50/50 in terms of protecting the ball and leaving a bit on the opponent. After that, Dan Burn went through the back of Bukayo Saka a couple of times but avoided getting booked. Havertz seems a pretty chill guy to me (perhaps a bit too chill at times), but there’s no question his blood was up when he slid in on Sean Longstaff.

I can see how that challenge could have been a red. Contact a little earlier with his leading foot rather than his trailing leg might have seen a different coloured card. It was a bit daft, to be honest, but as it played out it’s a yellow card. Booking. That’s it. And I would say the same if the challenge was the other way around.

The subsequent hysterics which saw four Newcastle players get booked one after the other for dissent were pretty funny though.

Bruno Guimares on Jorginho

This guy had the red mist, perhaps because of the Havertz challenge, but who knows? He’s a snide prick at the best of times. He got bypassed in midfield, then leapt into a challenge on Ben White (which thankfully he didn’t make contact with) before getting back up and hitting Jorginho in the head with his forearm as he ran by. Cowardly, and the textbook definition of violent conduct.

Here is that definition as per the Premier League:

Violent conduct is when a player uses or attempts to use excessive force or brutality against an opponent when not challenging for the ball, or against a team-mate, team official, match official, spectator or any other person, regardless of whether contact is made.

In addition, a player who, when not challenging for the ball, deliberately strikes an opponent or any other person on the head or face with the hand or arm, is guilty of violent conduct unless the force used was negligible.

VAR checked it, and decided it wasn’t violent conduct. We later found out that they assessed the fact it was the forearm rather than the elbow, which is specious reasoning, to say the least. Yes, an elbow might be more violent, but if you’re going to allow players to use their forearms to hit opponents, start putting ropes around the pitch and rebrand as wrestling.

I know Mikel Arteta was particularly fuming about the goal, but for me this is the biggest clanger of the night from the officials. As I said above, I fully understand the point of view that we didn’t create enough to win the game, and when that happens you are vulnerable to one thing up the other end costing you points. However, I also think you have to take into account how difficult games like this are. Newcastle are a very good team, and fine margins in games like this are inevitable.

So, when one team is permitted to play with 11 men instead of 10, I think we have a right to be aggrieved, and a right to expect better from the officials. How on earth they sat there in their booth and failed to deem that violent conduct is both absurd and incompetent. It’s a straight red, and they got it 100% wrong.

The goal

To me the ball looks out, but can I conclusively say 100% that it’s all the way out? No. Should we have then defended it better when play continued? Yes. We also should have defended the initial move better. Gabriel ought have made a routine clearance, instead he took a fresh air kick, and getting it away would have rendered this whole thing redundant.

As for the rest, it’s a foul on a defender that is given almost every time it happens. Joelinton has two hands on his back, which means his jump for the ball is impeded. Foul. Maybe it’s handball too. After that, I think it’s offside – when you look at the position of Raya (who wasn’t great in this moment either), but Gordon is surely ahead of him when the ball comes off Joelinton, so offside.

VAR said they couldn’t conclusively find the moment to draw the lines, which is again another indictment on how bad these officials were. I remember a couple of seasons ago we had a game (perhaps against Brighton?) when Gabriel Martinelli scored a goal, they couldn’t conclusively say if he was onside or not, so they disallowed it. What’s the difference?

This one stood, and we were behind against a team that should have been down to 10 men, and who are difficult to break down with 11. Here, I think we felt the loss of players like Odegaard, Gabriel Jesus, Thomas Partey and Emile Smith Rowe quite keenly. The bench was underwhelming. We had a lot of possession (80% after the goal went in), but little in the way of attacking threat or chances. Zero shots on target, a lot of corners but too many of them were delivered poorly.

It’s perfectly fine to feel frustrated at the officiating, but still harbour some concerns that this team isn’t really doing it in the final third at the moment. Saka and Martinelli were kept very quiet, Eddie doesn’t offer enough presence up top in games of this magnitude, and there’s clearly something missing right now. The players we have out could well have offered that, but in their absence we struggled.

Arteta’s reaction

To say the manager pulled no punches afterwards is an understatement. On the goal, he said:

We have to talk about the result because we have to talk about how the hell this goal stands. It’s incredible. I feel embarrassed but I have to be the one now coming here to try to defend the club and please ask for help because it’s an absolute disgrace that this goal is allowed. It’s an absolute disgrace.

And on officials and a potential apology:

I don’t care, honestly. I don’t care what they say. It’s the outcome. It’s too late. Whatever they say is too late. I don’t want to be in the hands of these people.

We lost three points today, guys. You know what that means? It’s too hard, this league. It’s too hard. It’s too much at stake. It’s embarrassing.

I think he is probably going to get a significant fine for these comments, but I’m glad he made them. The standard of officiating in the Premier League is such that every single weekend we see incidents and decisions that almost defy explanation. It doesn’t just happen to Arsenal, it’s nearly every club, and the consequences of some of these decisions can be far-reaching.

The reality is that unless some home-truths are spoken by those with sufficient profile, nothing changes. I hope all the broadcasters and pundits who were taken in by Howard Webb’s PR offensive are feeling a bit sheepish now, because since he took over at PGMOL, it’s worse than ever before. There are more mistakes, more meaningless apologies, and the nature of these errors necessitate some investigation. I don’t mean that to sound like a conspiracy theory, by the way. It’s that they’re not small things they’re getting wrong. Every week you think you’ve seen it all, then they pull another rabbit out of the hat. These are seismic blunders, and they now happen with unacceptable frequency.

PGMOL is very clearly not fit for purpose.

To conclude, the best thing I can say about yesterday is that I hope Arteta can calm down a bit, then use this anger and sense of injustice as fuel to get more out of his players. The officials were inept, but we can only control ourselves and I think some focus on how to get more out of our attacking players is important. By the way, can I just mention how good William Saliba and Declan Rice were yesterday? Imperious, both of them. Some of the others around them need to step it up.

Right, I’m gonna leave it there for this morning. Plenty to chat about in the Arses, and James and I will have a lot to go over in the Arsecast Extra tomorrow.

Until then.

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