Kevin Friend will take charge of Arsenal’s game against Watford on Saturday, so what can we expect from the man who was once removed from a match because Tottenham fans complained he supported Leicester?
Friend was the fourth best least bad referee last season according to you-are-the-ref, an award that was based on which ref made the fewest mistakes. I’m not overly sure how reliable it is as Anthony Taylor won so perhaps it was judged solely on big decisions when we all know it can be the small, niggly calls that are allowed to slide which can ruin a game.
He last took charge of an Arsenal game on 7 February when we beat Bournemouth 2-0 at their joint. It was a match in which he was criticised for not sending Mathieu Flamini off, prompting the then-Arsenal man to say, “I was focused on the ball, we went together to compete and I think I took the ball, it was a good decision from the referee.
“We both went for the ball and after the contact we talked to each other. It’s the Premier League.”
In total, he was in charge of three Arsenal games last season – the 3-0 win at Swansea, the 2-0 win at Villa and the 2-0 win at Bournemouth. Go back through the last number of seasons and a clear pattern emerges with the biggest Arsenal game Friend has been in charge of, a 2-2 draw at Goodison in August, 2014.
In short, he’s not yet a referee who’s trusted to take hold of the big games.
In those three games last season, Friend issued just three yellows and the only one that went to an Arsenal player was the one issued to Mathiu Flamini, but we can’t hold that against the referee. It was Mathieu Flamini, after all.
Friend was in the middle for just one Watford game last season, their 1-1 at home to Everton on 9 April. He issued the same number of yellows in that game as he did in all his Arsenal games – 3 – with two for the Hornets and one for the Toffees.
In his one game so far this season, Friend issued eight yellows when Stoke travelled to Middlesbrough, because, you know, Stoke (they got five).
In all honesty, Friend is a decent, if unremarkable referee who is still finding his feet at this level after being promoted to the Select Group of refs in 2009. A Community Shield Final in 2012 and a League Cup final in 2013 the highlights on his CV.
Expect little of controversy to happen on Saturday (he says hoping he isn’t jinxing things).