When Arsenal played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in October, Martin Atkinson allowed them to kick the crap out of Arsenal.
Gary Cahill’s early challenge on Alexis Sanchez was a clear red but the Chelsea defender was punished with only a yellow and, from that moment, Chelsea knew that, once again, they’d be free to kick at will.
This time, however, there will be a referee who has already shown that he will stand for no nonsense, regardless of stature or reputation. Yes indeedy, it’s Arsenal’s favourite referee – Michael Oliver.
It will be Oliver’s sixth Arsenal game of the season, none of which they’ve lost yet ( v City in Community Shield, 1-1 with Spurs, 2-2 at Liverpool, 3-2 at Brighton, and, of course, 2-1 at Old Trafford).
Before the game at Old Trafford I wasn’t even going to bother with a referee preview, such was my view that it didn’t matter what referee was in charge, it made no difference to how things went up there.
How wrong can you be?
So ahead of Sunday’s game my only concern is that Oliver might be influenced by how well received he has been by Arsenal fans since that game and that could influence him, but I don’t see that happening.
A young ref, he has already shown that he is one of the best, if not the best, this league has to offer – a view that I held before we dumped United out of the cup. Honest.
His display at Old Trafford was far from perfect and the decisions that he did get wrong were, of course, overshadowed, by the decision to send of Angel di Maria and book players in United shirts for diving, something they’ve been getting away with for as long as I can remember.
Taking charge of 33 games this season, Oliver has issued 122 yellows and six reds. It will be his fifth Chelsea game, all of which they’ve won which is not really surprising when you consider that, unlike Arsenal, the only opposition of note that the classless lot have played with Oliver in charge has been a home game against Liverpool (Burnley, West Ham, Hull the others).
From the 10 games he’s refereed involving Arsenal or Chelsea, there has been two reds (both for two yellows), both in games involving Arsenal (Borini and di Maria).
Like against United, Arsenal need a referee that will protect them.
They might have that in Oliver giving them the best chance yet of out-footballing Chelsea rather than being kicked into submission.