In the wake of Arsenal’s defeat at St James’ Park, a swirl of controversy has emerged involving claims of media pundits being pressured to soften criticism of refereeing decisions, adding another layer of dispute to the already contentious match outcome.

NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND - MARCH 17: Sky Sports Presenter, Gary Neville looks on during the Premier League match between Nottingham Forest and Newcastle United at City Ground on March 17, 2023 in Nottingham, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND – MARCH 17: Sky Sports Presenter, Gary Neville looks on during the Premier League match between Nottingham Forest and Newcastle United at City Ground on March 17, 2023 in Nottingham, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Amidst the fallout from Arsenal’s recent defeat to Newcastle United, where a series of disputed refereeing decisions took centre stage, there has been a significant development involving the media’s portrayal of the incident.

Keith Hackett, a former referee, has claimed that directives were issued for pundits to mitigate their critique of the officiating that took place during the match.

During the contentious game, Arsenal fell victim to what many have deemed questionable refereeing, with midfielder Bruno Guimaraes avoiding a card for thumping Jorginho, and Newcastle’s winning goal standing despite a foul on Gabriel Magalhaes.

Rather than the match officials’ decisions, the post-match analysis has largely centred on Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta’s reaction to the events.

Sky Sports pundits, including Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville, have been noted for their staunch defence of the referees amidst Arteta’s complaints. Hackett’s allegations, while not specifically naming Carragher or Neville, indicate that behind-the-scenes efforts were made to temper public admonishment of the match officials.

“I was aware of the two people receiving a phone call and instructed to [toe] the line and to quieten down in the criticism of match officials,” Hackett divulged.

These revelations have are presented alongside claims from Football insider Team News and Ticks, which suggest that Howard Webb offered Sky Sports more access to referees in exchange for a more lenient stance from Neville and Carragher.

These accusations, while currently unverified, resonate with a section of Arsenal fans, who perceive them as a possible explanation for the media’s portrayal of the refereeing decisions we all witnessed.

Adding fuel to the fire is the Daily Mail’s manic response to the controversy. Columnist Oliver Holt, in a scathing article, labelled Arsenal’s official statement on the matter, which criticised “unacceptable refereeing and VAR errors,” as shameful and counterproductive.

READ THIS Arsenal are meant to be a bastion of class…but they’ve been shamefully irresponsible Daily Mail7 Nov 2023 Rant: Arteta and fourth official Graham Scott GETTY Amessage from a fan account called the arsenal Therapy show, which was originally posted earlier in the year, was getting renewed traction on X yesterday. ‘Like this tweet if you would sign a petition to have @gNev2 (gary Neville) banned from commentating on arsenal games,’ it said. By late afternoon on monday, more than 25,000 people had done exactly that. Others suggested Neville and his sky sports colleague Jamie Carragher should both be prevented from entering the emirates for future games. I don’t know if the petition has materialised yet but it wouldn’t surprise me if it did. Neville’s crime — and Carragher’s — was to say he believed the decision to allow Newcastle’s bitterly contested winning goal against arsenal to stand at st James’ Park on saturday evening was correct. Their wider crime was to fly in the face of more hysterical attacks on the standard of refereeing in the Premier League and say that VaR got it right. VaR in particular, and referees in general, have become the easy out for every manager, every fan and every club who cannot handle defeat and need someone else to blame. If you are mikel arteta and you want to pass the buck because your goalkeeper has had a nightmare again, you pass that buck to VaR. and you pass that buck with increasing vehemence and passion and conviction and emotion so that your club mistakenly feels the need to get involved, too, as if a defeat is some incredible miscarriage of justice that goes to the very core of the system and infects football’s body politic. That is how we get to a point where arsenal, a club who remain revered by most in this country for being a bastion of elegance and class, somehow believe they are right to release a shamefully irresponsible statement doubling down on arteta’s emotional incontinence. arsenal played to the gallery. Nothing more. The statement talked about ‘yet more unacceptable refereeing and VaR errors’. Calm analysis showed that those errors they talked about — there were none. ‘The Premier League is the best league in the world with the best players, coaches and supporters, all of whom deserve better,’ arsenal’s statement continued. Three points at last because this was a win for over-reaching pomposity. Yes, the Premier League and its fans deserve better: they deserve better than a fine club like arsenal making fatuous, selfserving, crowd-pleasing statements that undermine the authority of officials and encourage the lunatic fringe who see corruption and conspiracy everywhere. You see the thing is, it’s not just VaR that is flawed; it is our attitude to it, too. The weekly histrionics about VaR say more about us than they do about the system. They tell us about our inability to deal with adversity. They tell us about our desire to deflect blame. They tell us about our desire to vilify others and our failure to take responsibility for our shortcomings. The tail is wagging the dog in english football. We spend more time analysing decisions and assassinating referees than we do enthusing about erling Haaland or Bukayo saka. moaning and whingeing about what is usually a correct offside decision or a penalty call takes up more time than praising a match where there is often much to praise. maybe we should devote a little more attention to players who appear to dedicate an inordinate amount of time to deceiving referees rather than the referees who are victims of that deception. It could be said Wolves have been the victims of two bad penalty decisions in recent weeks. It is more accurate to say they have twice been the victims of cheats. It was a different story in the North east on saturday. The officials — the system — were traduced for getting something right. It didn’t stop the histrionics. VaR must be banned. enough is enough. On and on with the hissy fit. No one’s saying you have to like VaR but much of the reaction to it is deeply irrational. We all know the details of anthony gordon’s goal by now. It has been pored over more painstakingly than the Zapruder footage. Joe Willock retrieved a wayward shot by the goalline, crossed it towards Joelinton, who leapt for it in a challenge with gabriel magalhaes and when the ball dropped, gordon swept it over the line. Yes, there are contentious aspects to it. Did the ball go out before Willock retrieved it? The footage is inconclusive. What isn’t inconclusive is that when Willock chases the ball towards the corner flag, he is alone. There are six arsenal players in the box. all of them stand and watch him. Was gabriel fouled by Joelinton? again, the footage is inconclusive. Neville and Carragher were both hugely accomplished defenders. They thought Joelinton’s challenge was legitimate. Was gordon offside when the ball dropped? Once more, technology could not provide the answer. When arsenal lost, the screaming started. From their fans, who said they had been cheated, but most of all from their manager, arteta, who flew into a pathetic rant of almost comical petulance in which, inevitably, he sought to blame the officials for arsenal’s loss. arteta grew so impassioned that at one point it felt as if he was blaming VaR for the state of the nation. He asked for help, as if he were caught in the midst of an emergency. ‘I feel embarrassed having more than 20 years in this country,’ he said, as if VaR would force him to flee to a civilised place where no one ever errs. HE said he was embarrassed. He said it was a disgrace. He said that in China, in Japan, in spain, in Italy and in Portugal, such a goal would not be allowed. around the same time, footage emerged of Iago aspas of Celta Vigo hurling a pitchside monitor to the floor after a late penalty award was overturned in a 1-1 draw with sevilla. so that is spain off the refereeing nirvana list then. arteta’s tantrum told us, again, that he does not deal with pressure particularly well. In fact, he appears to deal with it particularly poorly. The cold truth is that arsenal did not lose the match because of refereeing decisions. The truth is Newcastle deserved to win the game. They were the better team. and if there was one moment in the build-up to the goal that was more important than any other, it was the moment when the arsenal goalkeeper, David Raya, the goalkeeper arteta has chosen to replace an in- form aaron Ramsdale, let Willock’s cross sail over his flailing arm and on to the head of Joelinton. But that is an inconvenient truth. Far better to shoot the messenger or lambast the fourth official or scream about the system, to stoke an atmosphere where referees have already become figures of hate, to undermine VaR further, to blame someone else for your own shortcomings. Here’s another inconvenient truth: arsenal will not win the title until they have a manager who takes responsibility for his own decisions. If arteta cannot become that man, arsenal’s drought will go on.
Daily Mail 7 November 2023

Holt’s argument suggests that a more measured examination of the incidents would vindicate the officials’ decisions—a viewpoint at odds with a number of former referees who have backed Arsenal’s viewpoint of the goal and non-red card.

The media narrative, as shaped by the Daily Mail and others, appears to be attempting to overshadow an alternative narrative—one that highlights football’s grievances with refereeing and their use of VAR.

Daily Mail Arteta criticism
Daily Mail 7 November 2023

This approach, as critiqued by fans and observers, points to a broader issue of media bias and its influence on public perception in football.