Arsenal’s victory over Manchester City thrilled fans but also brought into focus concerns over inconsistent refereeing in the Premier League.
The match saw two controversial decisions involving City’s Mateo Kovacic that have raised eyebrows but will ultimately avoided scrutiny due to Arsenal’s win.
Kovacic was involved in two tackles that most have argued merited a red card.
Around the half-hour mark, Kovacic lunged nowhere near the ball and, studs up, smashed into Martin Odegaard’s ankle.
Oliver awarded a yellow card, but replays indicated the challenge was far more severe.
Not long after, a second ‘tackle’ occurred which was very similar: Kovacic targeted Declan Rice, once again making a late challenge, albeit lower this time. The referee claimed Rice went into Kovacic as much as the other way around.
Despite these incidents, Oliver allowed Kovacic to remain on the field, decisions that have raised concerns among fans and analysts alike.
Pundits Gary Neville and Theo Walcott were vocal in their observations of the match. “Oh, no. I think he’s lucky. I think he’s very lucky. I think he gets Declan Rice’s right foot. What is he doing? I think he should be off. It’s madness from Kovacic. The first one was close. That one was just crazy,” said Neville.
Walcott, the former Arsenal player, also commented, “As soon as it went to VAR, I thought, and I’ve seen it slowed down, red card straight away. You can see the way he gets really low on the ankle. For me, it’s a red card. I don’t think there’s any question.”
Mark Clattenburg also highlighted how both Kovacic and Oliver got very lucky.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, when asked about the contentious incidents, offered a rather ambivalent response. He wasn’t bothered by it, highlighting how a positive result can often defuse the fury surrounding refereeing controversies.
Nonetheless, the instances involving Kovacic and Oliver have further underscored long-standing issues with Premier League officiating, calling for a need for greater transparency and consistency.
The incidents have come in the wake of broader conversations about the role of technology and human judgement in football. Despite the availability of VAR technology, the ultimate decision rests with the match officials, whose judgement calls remain subjective.
While the focus in the aftermath of the game has naturally been on Arsenal’s much-needed win, there is a concern that the result has protected officials from the scrutiny they might otherwise have faced.
This is particularly notable in the context of the Premier League, where just last week, Liverpool faced a wrongful VAR decision that led to the officials being dropped from games and sparked days of coverage across various platforms.
Would Oliver and Brooks be on the list for the next set of Premier League games had Arsenal not grabbed a late winner? Why should Arsenal’s goal mitigate what they did?
Thus, while the victory has provided Arsenal fans with a sense of joy and pride, it also brings to light the often overlooked complexities and ongoing issues that continue to cloud the sport.
With the system showing evident shortcomings, fans and stakeholders alike are left wondering when, or indeed if, consistent and transparent officiating will become a regular feature of Premier League football.