I guess the biggest compliment I can pay Michael Oliver is that when I hear his name I don’t immediately want to smash things.
That’s quite different to when I hear, say, Mike Dean is in charge of things, although that worked out quite well last week.
While I’m sure Oliver, 29, has been behind some dodgy decisions against Arsenal (which ref hasn’t?) none spring immediately to mind, so that can only be a good thing.
He hasn’t been so bad as to imprint himself permanently on my brain as a ref to be avoided.
That’s not because I’m not really sure who he is unlike some of the refs who are appearing these days; Oliver has been around since 2010 when he first became a Premier League referee at the age of just 25, the youngest ever, taking Stuart Atwell’s record.
Starting at the age of 14, he’s been at this a while.
He was the ref in charge when we lost 3-2 at Swansea in 2012, giving the Swans a penalty after he was fooled by Nathan Dyer who stuck a leg out to make contact with Aaron Ramsey, prompting Wenger to say of the decision after the game
“I still don’t understand where the referee found the penalty.
“We lost because we played against a good team, we were unlucky because we got a penalty that was not a penalty, and we made mistakes.
He was also the ref in charge when we were destroyed at Anfield last season, which means that he was the one who missed Martin Skrtel’s offside but, let’s face it, his display was the least of our worries that day and he did give us a penalty so we at least got on the scoresheet which was nice of him.
Oliver has taken charge of 21 games this season so far, issuing 80 yellows (an average of almost four per game) and four reds (only one of which was straight).
He’s refereed three Arsenal games, all of them big ones – the Community Shield Final in which Arsenal beat Manchester City 3-0, the home draw against Tottenham and the 2-2 at Anfield.
Issuing a total of 14 yellows and one red over the course of those three games, six of the yellows have gone to Arsenal players (Chambers, Wilshere, the Ox v Spurs, Debuchy, Flamini, Cazorla v Liverpool).
Last season Oliver refereed 39 games, the joint-third highest total of all refs (tops was Howard Webb with 45, then Mark Clattenburg 42, and Martin Atkinson 39) so he is certainly seen as a man to be trusted by the FA.
That’s not necessarily always a good thing but Oliver is probaly the pick of that list now that Howard Webb has gone (Arsenal’s record under Webb was actually pretty good) .
During those 39 games he issued a total of 141 yellows (an average of 3.6 per game, slightly down on his 3.8 CPG average this season) and four reds, the same number as he has already issued this season.
Taking charge of four Arsenal games last season – the home win v Tottenham in the league, the 1-0 defeat at Old Trafford, the 5-1 at Anfield, the 1-1 at Wigan – he issued 16 yellows and no reds. Seven of the yellows went to Arsenal players (Flamini (x2), Rosicky, Sagna, Wilshere (x2), Giroud) and his stats do tend to show that he is quite even handed when it comes to refereeing our games.
I don’t expect anything too controversial from Oliver in Arsenal’s game against Brighton and do, oddly, anticipate him affording the Arsenal players a little more protection than other refs might.
Brighton v Arsenal – FA Cup officials
Referee: Michael Oliver
Assistant Referees: Michael Mullarkey & Lee Betts
Fourth Official: Simon Hooper