Look, let’s be clear from the start. I don’t think there is an anti-Arsenal refereeing bias or conspiracy.
I don’t believe they all sit down at the start of the season and discuss the variety of new ways they will f**k with Arsenal in the year ahead.
However, I do think there’s something unconscious going on somewhere and it’s resulting in Arsenal getting screwed regularly.
I am, of course, going to think that as an Arsenal fan. Every fan thinks their club is suffering at the hands of officials, so let’s establish some things upfront I’m fairly sure we can all agree on.
When you think of teams that are dirty, kicky, nasty or snide, do you ever think of Arsenal?
You probably don’t, do you?
So we can agree – Arsenal are not an aggressive team.
I think we can also agree that, for at least the past decade, every pundit on the planet has told us that Arsenal are the exact opposite of an aggressive team.
They are a side afraid to be cynical or nasty, to ‘get stuck in’.
They are soft.
So that’s two things established – Arsenal are not an aggressive team and Arsenal are generally perceived to be weak.
Yet, somehow, Arsenal have more yellow cards this season than any other side in the league.
A fluke, perhaps. After all, someone has to be at the top of the table, right?
That doesn’t explain how Arsenal need to commit fewer fouls than any other side (except Tottenham who overtook us this weekend) in the league to get a card, though.
Arsenal get a yellow card every 4.263 fouls (Spurs 4.235) while Leicester are allowed almost a full 10 fouls before the ref gets his book out. Mid-table, it ranges between 5.1 and 6.2.
Only one side averages more than 2.5 yellow cards per game and that’s, yep, you guessed it, Arsenal.
So, are Arsenal just committing worse fouls than everybody else? Didn’t we establish at the start that they don’t? If anything it’s the opposite.
On Saturday against Crystal Palace, Alexandre Lacazette was booked for persistent fouling after three offences. Jordan Ayew, man of the match, committed seven and never made it into Paul Tierney’s notebook.
As the Frenchman was shown his card, a rendition of ‘same old Arsenal, always cheating’ rang out, not for the first time. It’s a song usually heard after an Arsenal player has just been kicked to pieces while the ref waves play on. But we also hear it when Arsenal players get booked as well.
There is, as mentioned, a perception that Arsenal are soft, keenly peddled by the media and reinforced by opposition managers over the years. That means referees, whether they realise it or not, are more likely to think Arsenal are just being babies rather than give them the protection they afford others.
Look at the challenges Nicolas Pepe has already endured this season, many of them as bad as Aubameyang’s clear red card against Palace.
Few have even seen yellow for them.
Similarly, if an opposition player is down, then the Arsenal man *must* have done something, seems to go the logic.
It’s the only rational reason I can think of for why things are the way the are and I’m pretty sure I’m stretching the word ‘rational’ to it’s absolute outer limit here.
We all saw it against Palace and we knew it would be an Arsenal player who would be the first to go into the book. Turned out to be Pepe for being held by a Palace player.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles went into the book next, then Aubameyang was sent off before finally, after 71 minutes, despite a number of bad tackles and cynical fouls, did Tierney book a Palace player.
As the saying goes, it’s only paranoia if they’re not really out to get you…