Well, nothing much to talk about this week then…
First off, it has to be said that from a refereeing perspective, both penalties and the red card on Sunday were just about correct. Before any exploring Burnley fans feel outraged, the split second mistake in Arsenal’s favour for the second penalty was made by the linesman (for whom it was not the first error of the afternoon).
Also, massive credit has to be given to Burnley again, who showed that it is entirely possible to present a very sound defensive set-up while still playing two front men, despite a comparative lack of quality personnel. The slightly jammy win at Turf Moor looks even better after this one, and when considering that currently Burnley have the fourth highest points total at home this year, and the fifth best home points per game (we are third in each category). In other words, the Clarets have learnt a lot from their last top flight adventure and are no push-overs.
Taking this into account reflects that Arsenal’s Sunday lunchtime display wasn’t bad, and they created enough to deserve the win. Had our Swiss defensive playmaker not panicked and lunged at Defour, Mustafi’s first Arsenal goal would have paved the way for a comfortable, if narrow, victory.
But panic he did.
Plenty of worse (and certainly more overtly dangerous) challenges this season have been met with yellow cards (particularly by the home team at Old Trafford), but despite minimal contact, Xhaka was always going to be relying on clemency from the officials to not be dismissed. And Jon Moss’s record when refereeing Arsenal games is a pretty clear indication of the likely absence of the benefit of any doubt.
Equally Stephen Defour is not a player averse to the darkest of arts, and he certainly wasn’t going to do Xhaka any favours by reacting according to the level of contact (which I suspect a good few of his teammates might have done, from what I’ve seen of them).
There have been suggestions that Xhaka’s foul may be have been influenced by a couple of naughty tackles by Defour in the first half, but I’m not sure the Swiss’s decision making is as considered as that. The two penalties he has conceded this season suggest that he may be rather prone to engaging body before brain when pressured, and it certainly wasn’t a match situation or pitch position to be seeking retribution. My own feeling is that his tackling technique needs serious work, as does his agility in closing down, and until either improves, he will continue to commit clumsy and ill–judged fouls when trying to prevent counter attacks.
Interestingly, the only person I’ve seen to date suggesting that it wasn’t a red card was Gary Lineker. Of course, most others have been keen to metaphorically match Xhaka’s putting the boot in. While the midfielder’s decision making under pressure defensively and control in challenges clearly needs to improve, those queuing up to write off his Arsenal career are merely succumbing to the usual bullshit sensationalism that plagues much of the media in the social media age.
As a response it was nice to see Arsenal old-boy Johan Djourou defending him online in an intelligent way, after the predictable intervention of those who should probably have restricted access to modern technology.
Either way, two straight reds this season means a lengthy FA-enforced absence for the deep-lying playmaker, which will no doubt will limit our creativity and efficiency in the middle third.
It seems that the manager may also be in the same boat. Having been ordered from the field having supposedly daring to refer to the referee with the c-word (that’s right: ‘Cheat‘), he got himself into rather more trouble by hovering within the mouth of the tunnel rather than disappearing to whatever location he was supposed to. Pushing the fourth official’s hand away from him didn’t look very sensible, although Anthony Taylor was clearly invading his personal space and may have initiated contact. I’ve certainly heard that Taylor may have contravened the laws by following him, but, in truth, I don’t know the rights and wrongs of that [we’re trying to confirm/deny, if you know the answer, get in touch].
Either way, it was enough ammunition for a totally disproportionate media outrage orgasm, topped off by ex-refs boss Keith Hackett publicly calling for an unprecedented 6 match plus stadium ban. This is the same man who has been complaining about the incompetence of the current match officials at every opportunity [and previously said Jon Moss is a ‘bit of a disaster’ every time he referees]. Then Graham Poll added to the chorus for footballing crucifixion, another outspoken critic of the current set up.
Wenger’s contrite and charming post match interviews illustrated pretty clearly that he knew he had crossed the line, but apologising has not availed him of a swift FA charge.
I imagine that Wenger’s overreaction was partly the result of his previous with both officials. He has been public in his criticism of both officials in the past after previous error-strewn performances, and each has previously been demoted after being directly responsible for Arsenal defeats. It probably doesn’t help that Mourinho once baited Jon Moss with “You fucking referees are weak, Wenger is right”.
Essentially, Wenger was in the wrong in terms of not retaining control and not just buggering off down the tunnel, and some form of touchline ban is inevitable. I’d be very surprised if the howls for his virtual execution by Hackett and Poll are heeded in full, but I wouldn’t expect any of the match officials to do him any favours in their reports.
Of course, all this controversy helps mask the fact that Mr. Moss once again proved that he is one of the weakest of the current premier league crop. While the three big decisions he did make were probably correct (helpful linesman’s error notwithstanding), the remainder of his display was a fine example of mistakes and inconsistencies. Missing the pen for the clear foul on Mustafi was poor (and from our friend running the line as well), but his general application of the rules was reminiscent of coin tossing.
Both Moss and Taylor are really poor compared to some of their colleagues, and crucially in terms of communicating with players, managers and, indirectly, with the fans. Clattenberg makes some howlers as a ref, but he is for the most part an excellent communicator, who knows how to use a visual signal or concise phrase to let people know his rationale. Accordingly, things very rarely get out of hand and crowds very rarely get violently riled up on his watch. He also, crucially projects an air of confidence and competence, which neither Moss nor Taylor do. To be reffing at this level both must be pretty strong characters, but for a variety of reasons they come across as weak, which makes them more likely to be targeted for being put under pressure.
Of course, both are part of Mike Riley’s North-West conclave, so will be backed fully, but at present neither is good enough at their job. The kindest thing I can say is that neither are Lee Mason, though his incompetence smacks less of a consistent bias.
When all is said and done, despite the fall-out, it is another three points and results elsewhere leave us in second place.
The game also threw up some interesting stats. We remain the only team in Premier League history to win more than we lose when reduced to ten men or fewer (31 to 26), a stat Xhaka has contributed to twice this season. We have also conceded seven penalties already this season, more than in any previous one since Sky TV invented records, but have yet to lose any of those games. Xhaka has also contributed twice here! It was also the first time, out of three attempts, that Sanchez has scored for us from the spot in the league.
Perhaps all three point towards elements of the mental strength the manager is so often telling us about…