We’ve had to wait until November, but Martin Atkinson has finally been selected to referee an Arsenal match this season.

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - JUNE 20: Referee Martin Atkinson awards a freekick to Arsenal during the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Arsenal FC at American Express Community Stadium on June 20, 2020 in Brighton, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, ENGLAND – JUNE 20: Referee Martin Atkinson awards a freekick to Arsenal during the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Arsenal FC at American Express Community Stadium on June 20, 2020 in Brighton, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

There has been no sign of Martin Aktinson anywhere near an Arsenal game and this is a good thing but the 49-year-old returns for Matchweek 8.

No official was in charge of more Arsenal games last seaosn with Atkinson being handed 25% of the Gunners’ games until the match against Brighton which saw Bernd Leno injured.

After that, Atkinson was not involved in another Arsenal match despite being referee seven times, fourth official twice and VAR once.

Until that Brighton game Arsenal had 13 referees in charge of Premier League games, which doesn’t sound too bad until you break it down and realise that of the 30 games played to that point, just four referees have took charge of 20 of those games – that’s two-thirds or 66.66% if you prefer:

  • Martin Atkinson – 7
  • Mike Dean – 5
  • Chris Kavanagh – 4
  • Anthony Taylor – 4
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 01: Lucas Torreira of Arsenal speaks tp match referee Martin Atkinson during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on September 01, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 01: Lucas Torreira of Arsenal speaks tp match referee Martin Atkinson during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on September 01, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

When you take in total involvements either as ref, assistant ref, fourth official, and all the VAR people, Atkinson’s total is even worse. He was involved in a full 30% of Arsenal’s matches as he was the fourth official for our match against City just before Brighton when football returned.

This matters.

It is impossible for referees not to form biases, conscious or unconscious, when they are in charge of the same players so often. It simply cannot be fair. I don’t know if the same thing happens with other teams and referees, but it shouldn’t.

It is perhaps, then, no coincidence that Arsenal sat at the top of the yellow card table, for the majority of last season, receiving more per game than any other side. They also needed fewer fouls to pick up a yellow than everyone else, too.

It’s worth noting that before we got a better mix of referees towards the end of the first part of the season, Arsenal were some distance clear at the top in both categories but that gap narrowed when new faces were put in charge.

At what point does it become acceptable for the club to start asking questions and for them to actually stand up to officials who can make a game or player’s career yet are held accountable by no-one like they run their own little dictatorship?

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 01: Danny Rose of Tottenham Hotspur speaks with referee Martin Atkinson during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on September 01, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 01: Danny Rose of Tottenham Hotspur speaks with referee Martin Atkinson during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on September 01, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

‘Question us and be punished’ is their mantra while they refuse to speak to the media to explain their decisions or take blame for the mistakes.

Players, managers and even fans are required to say sorry when they get something wrong.

Why not referees?

Arsenal vs Aston Villa officials

Referee: Martin Atkinson
Assistants: Constantine Hatzidakis, Nick Hopton
Fourth official: Graham Scott. VAR: David Coote
Assistant VAR: Stephen Child