Martin Atkinson will take charge of Arsenal’s semi-final game against Reading at Wembley on Saturday.
The ref, who hails from West Yorkshire, is not a favourite of us here at Cannon Towers, although he has seemed to have mellowed with age and isn’t quite as authoritarian as he used to. This is not a good thing.
Last taking charge of an Arsenal game in the North London derby defeat, this will be his fourth Arsenal game of the season, only one of which Arsenal have won – and that was a game in which he failed to spot Rio Ferdinand’s grab of Olivier Giroud which should have been a red card when the Frenchman was sent off himself on Boxing Day. The other game he was in charge of was the 2-0 defeat at Chelsea, when he deemed Gary Cahill’s insane challenge on Alexis Sanchez as worthy of only a yellow and generally allowed them to kick the crap out of Arsenal for 90 minutes.
Atkinson also came in for criticism from the Arsenal manager after the defeat at Tottenham as Wenger said ‘I think we were not very good and the referee was at our level’ after watching Atkinson book Arsenal players for Tottenham dives while allowing Ryan Mason free reign to kick his way around the pitch. He also missed Danny Rose’s stamp on Giroud’s Achilles, not even giving a freekick let alone the red card it warranted.
So, ahead of the game against Reading, I’m not too optimistic that Atkinson will do what’s needed to ensure the game is played on a level playing field. Since we’ve been doing these ref previews/reviews, Atkinson’s performance in the Spurs game stands out as the worst refereeing performance we’ve seen – and we’ve covered two games which featured Anthony Taylor in that time. Had we been doing them at the time of the Chelsea game, that probably would have been even worse.
Only two refs have issued more than Atkinson’s eight reds this season (Craig Pawson, Anthony Taylor (9)) and his yellow card count of 141 is the second highest of the season (Keith Stroud tops the list with 157 in two fewer games).
That would lead you to believe that Atkinson is a strict ref – and he is – just never in a way that protects Arsenal players.