So the dust settles on another Premier League weekend, and the table doesn’t look quite as nice at it might have. Still, being a point off the top after 16 games isn’t any kind of disaster, and while processing a defeat to Aston Villa isn’t ideal, we’re not sitting here talking about how to do better.
I think it was pretty simple on Saturday evening: our front four of Gabriel Jesus, Martin Odegaard, Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli were below their best to varying degrees. On another day, we come away from Villa Park with at least a draw. Which isn’t to make excuses but it’s not as if we’re scrambling around desperately trying to figure out what went wrong. The captain said afterwards:
In front of the goal we had enough chances to win the game. I felt they didn’t create anything apart from the goal. It happens sometimes. I had a few chances myself but the only thing you can do is keep going and bounce back in the next game. That’s what we will do.
What else is there? There’s no need for self-flagellation, just get your head down and do better in the next game. As I said in yesterday’s match recap blog, I’m sure that will be the focus for the week ahead, although we also have to contend with our final Champions League group game against PSV tomorrow. Mikel Arteta will meet the press later today, and we’ll see if he gives us an idea of how much he’s going to rotate his side for our game in the Netherlands.
Given that we have already won the group, there’s scope to basically do what he wants, but squad size and the injury list means that certain players you might ideally want to leave out will have to play. It’d be nice to see us dip into the Academy a bit, at least for the substitutes bench, and perhaps the likes of Myles Lewis-Skelly and Ethan Nwaneri, who were on the bench for the Lens game, might get their chance this time around. More on that game later on Arseblog News, and here in tomorrow’s blog.
One thing we are talking about a lot this season is officiating and referees. It was the case again this weekend, and it wasn’t just an issue for Arsenal fans. It hasn’t been just us. Throughout this campaign teams have been impacted by poor standards, dreadful decisions, rank inconsistency and, at times, incidents that we have never seen before. Just when you think they can’t cock it up any worse than they already have, they pull something new out of the hat.
I found Roy Hodgson’s post-match interview after Palace’s 2-1 defeat to Liverpool so interesting. Your mileage may vary in terms of how much sympathy you have for Jordan Ayew’s soft red card given his involvement in an even softer one for Takehiro Tomiyasu earlier in the season, but as I’ve often said, the tribalism etc is what prevents real fan consensus over refereeing standards, and without that nothing will change. Not to mention it had a material impact on us because Liverpool went on to win a game against 10 men. Perhaps they would have beaten the 11, but it made life easier for them.
It’s hard to disagree with a word Roy Hodgson says here about the state of refereeing in this country. pic.twitter.com/hdSzrDWEjB
— HLTCO (@HLTCO) December 9, 2023
On a weekend when our manager was browbeaten into saying nothing about refereeing decisions because he was already serving a suspension with another one hanging over him for weeks and weeks, Hodgson pulled no punches when he spoke with TNT Sport. He said:
I’m afraid I’ve been in football a long time and games like today make me realise that when the day comes to leave it behind I won’t be missing anything.
When pressed later to expand on what he meant, he continued:
The refereeing and the referees, the referees’ incentives. I’m absolutely sick about the handball interpretations. I’m sick about these yellow cards for time wasting. I’m sick about player behaviour. All through the game we’re trying to do our job. The coaches who set this game up unbelievably well are trying to get a bit of advice out and every time they step forward, they get even close to me, the guy’s screaming at them to sit down again. I’m sick of those things.
Honestly, I find it quite sad that a man who has been in football as long as he has, who has dedicated so much to the game, feels like he won’t miss it when he walks away. It’s purely anecdotal of course, but since the start of the season I must have received a handful of emails from regular Arseblog readers who have spent their entire lives supporting this club and loving football who now just can’t bear what the game has become and are willing to do something else with their spare time.
What Hodgson said about his coaches being bellowed at to sit down by fourth officials really struck a cord with me. These are adults being treated like children. It’s not really acceptable, and ultimately it’s pointless. They fixed a problem that never existed and made a problem that’s now a talking point. Did we ever have lengthy discussions about how coaches talking to their managers during a game were a massive problem that football had to address? Of course not. But now if two people are standing up within the confines of a technical area they are doing something wrong and can be booked for it. What is this nonsense?
Fans and media have always talked about refereeing and decisions, it’s not a new thing, but the extent to which is now part of the discourse is absurd to me. I also realise that by writing about it here, I am part of that media cycle, but it’s also basically inescapable. Which is why I cannot abide the notion that we just let referees get on with their ‘very difficult’ jobs and just suck it up. When the livelihood of almost every single person working in football is connected to their performance, to have a group of people who impact the game so directly to be above any kind of constructive discussion or scrutiny just isn’t healthy. As evidenced by what Roy Hodgson said, and by the fact people are literally giving up on something they love.
Perhaps, rather than a campaign to respect referees – which isn’t a bad concept in and of itself, obviously – football would be better served by a campaign which seeks to improve standards in a normal, productive way. Respect can be a guideline, but it also needs to be earned. When managers can’t speak openly and honestly, when staff can’t do their jobs on the sideline without some bloke ‘screaming’ at them, and when the only transparency is a bullshit TV show bought and paid for by the PGMOL so Howard Webb can get himself front and centre, the Premier League has a big, big problem.
And ignoring it, as we’re so often told to do, will only make it worse.
Finally, big congrats to Arsenal Women who battered Chelsea 4-1 at the Emirates yesterday, in front of a record WSL crowd. As ever, Tim has all the reaction for you over on Arseblog News.
Right, let’s leave it there for now. We are recording the Arsecast Extra in a little while, so 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 lunchtime. Until then.