While this season has been pretty painful, we have at least been able to relax knowing Martin Atkinson hasn’t been involved, in any capacity, with a single Arsenal game, so of course they’re going to wheel him out for our trip to White Hart Lane.

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - JUNE 20: Hector Bellerin of Arsenal appeals to referee Martin Atkinson during the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Arsenal FC at American Express Community Stadium on June 20, 2020 in Brighton, England. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in all fixtures being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, ENGLAND – JUNE 20: Hector Bellerin of Arsenal appeals to referee Martin Atkinson during the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Arsenal FC at American Express Community Stadium on June 20, 2020 (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

If I’d thought about it more, it would have been obvious. Atkinson was involved with around a quarter of Arsenal games in all domestic competitions last season which is, let’s face, just ridiculous.

No ref should be involved with a single team that much.

It was a relief, then, when he vanished after our trip to Brighton last season. You know the one, when Matteo Guendouzi thought he’d mouth off about how much he gets paid to a player who earns more and killed his Arsenal career in the process. The match that saw Bernd Leno crippled by a shove that was dismissed as ‘nothing’ by pundits, allowing Emi Martinez to step in, step up and grab some glory before heading north for Villa.

Yeah, that game.

Back in June, I asked why Arsenal got Atkinson so much when there are 21 Premier League referees. I was going to track it this season to see if it happened to other clubs but, if I’m honest, it got really boring really fast.

The fact is, Atkinson is an absolute nightmare. Once upon a time, he was a ref only too happy to flash red cards wildly. Now, his attitude seems a danger to the safety of players at times. I don’t say that just from an Arsenal perspective, although that’s where the majority of my experience comes from. His refusal to deal with dangerous play in an adequate manner isn’t good enough.

Last season, Atkinson took charge of seven Arsenal league games and was fourth official twice and VAR once. That’s 10 involvements in total.

In fact, no referee took charge of more games overall than Atkinson last season (32, same as Michael Oliver and Anthony Taylor). PGMOL’s darlings, clearly.

Atkinson handed out 26 yellows in his seven Arsenal games as referee. 14 went to the opposition but we all know it should have been a lot more.

He also took charge of the 2-2 draw between Arsenal and Spurs at the Emirates.

Atkinson was in charge of just four Spurs games, including the draw just mentioned. Spurs won only one of those, away at Villa 3-2, so it seems Atkinson doesn’t much like them either. They also drew at Everton in the game that saw Son sent off when he hacked Gomez down from behind, resulting in the player hitting another and breaking his leg. Son cried and they overturned his decision while Gomez underwent surgery and a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Like Ryan Shawcross, his tears made it all ok. Spurs also lost at home to Liverpool under Atkinson last season.

It’s worth noting that last season five officials played a role in 10 or more Arsenal games.

Paul Tierney was involved 12 times, Chris Kavanagh 11, Adam Nunn and Stuart Atwell 10.

Why was Tierney involved twice as much as Kevin Friend or Michael Oliver? Why was Atkinson given twice as many Arsenal games as Lee Mason or Jon Moss and even more than twice those given to Andre Marriner or Craig Pawson?

Answers on a bent postcard to PGMOL…

“Ridiculous”: Arsenal fans rage at Atkinson decisions

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - JUNE 20: Referee Martin Atkinson speaks to Matteo Guendouzi of 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. Football Stadiums around Europe remain empty due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in all fixtures being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/Pool via Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, ENGLAND: Referee Martin Atkinson speaks to Matteo Guendouzi on June 20, 2020. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/Pool via Getty Images)

20 June 2020, by Dan Critchlow

Martin Atkinson angered Arsenal fans with his treatment of Yves Bissouma during the Brighton match on Saturday, refusing to book the player.

Martin Atkinson refereed the Arsenal match away to Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday, but he seemed to have a blind spot for one particular player racking up infringements.

Yves Bissouma committed six fouls and left a few Arsenal players flat on the floor away from the play, but somehow avoided a yellow card. Arguably, that foul count also should’ve been a lot higher, but Atkinson turned a blind eye a few times.

He stopped a breakaway counter-attack with a foul, he clotheslined a player, he gave away a free-kick for a high challenge, but none of it was worthy of a booking.

21 Premier League referees, why do Arsenal always get Martin Atkinson?

Only Jordan Ayew has made more fouls (seven) in a single Premier League game without being booked this season. That performance was against Arsenal too. Funnily enough, with the same referee in charge.

Understandably, Arsenal fans weren’t happy about it:

It was definitely bizarre. If Matteo Guendouzi makes one or two fouls he ends up on a watchlist, three or four and he’d be risking a sending-off, let alone a booking. As would most players in most games most weeks.

For whatever reason, Atkinson never latched onto the fact it was the same player making cynical fouls over and over again. Just like he never caught on with Ayew earlier this season. And just like he’ll fail to notice the next time it happens.

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Writer. Feminist. Dreamer. Gooner. Owner of DailyCannon.com, writing about Arsenal since 2008. Sometimes found in the Guardian, Vice.com & elsewhere talking queer issues, politics & football. If in doubt, assume sarcasm.