Any time Arsenal play a northern team there’s a good chance, especially if the team play in like a 20,000 seat arena, that their supporters will bay for blood for 90 minutes. They will chant “same old Arsenal, always cheating” and almost nothing else for 90 minutes. They will boo the referee. They will boo players who have had their legs broken in their stadium. And when their players aren’t allowed to simply shove the Arsenal players to the ground or kick their legs to splinters they will go on irate tirades about how soft the Arsenal players are. If it wasn’t so sad and predictable, it would be hilarious.
On Sunday there was a so-called controversial moment that decided the game in favor of Arsenal. Aaron Ramsey, who didn’t stop sprinting for 90 minutes, made a last minute run into the penalty box, tried to flick the ball back to a teammate, but was shoved in the back and the referee blew up for a foul and pointed to the penalty spot. It was a clear foul and a 100% nailed-on, stonewall, penalty.
Dyche was asked if it was a penalty and responded “It probably is a penalty but my point is we were never not going to be given that on tonight’s performance.” There were no follow-up questions over this and what he means here is unclear. If I were to guess, I think he means that there is a bias against his team and he’s insinuating that the ref was looking for a reason to give the penalty. But the journalists never pressed him on this, instead just laughing and nodding their heads as Dyche repeatedly told them that he “tells it like it is”.
Dyche later asked the press why Arsenal have been given three late penalties in three consecutive games and wondered if some stats guys could help him out with the odds. I will do that right now: if your team makes a blatant foul in the penalty box they should be called for it 100% of the time, however, given that this is the Arsenal and they receive the fewest penalties of any of the top four teams despite being one of the most heavily fouled and despite multiple penalties not given – for example in this match there was a clear foul on Bellerin in the 67th minute which should have been awarded a penalty – then I can see why Dyche wonders why his team is the one getting called after they give away two blatant penalties. He’s right, the odds of this happening are extremely low and Burnley were unfortunate. They should be treated just like every other team in the Premier League and be allowed to foul Arsenal at will without repercussions. It is completely unfair that teams like Stoke get away with fouling Arsenal in the 18 yard box and Burnley don’t.
Meanwhile in the other presser, as if to highlight the wild differences between the way that these two managers are treated by the members of the press, Wenger was asked if Ramsey has a “right” to throw himself on the ground to highlight the penalty. The one manager is asked if it’s a penalty and allowed to go on a rant about how unfair the world is and the other manager is asked if he thinks his players have a right to cheat.
I don’t know how Wenger didn’t just dress this “reporter” down. Just say “you are really asking me if I think my players have a right to cheat???” And then instruct his people to escort this person out of the press room and never let him back to ask questions ever again. But instead, because he has class, he simply explained to the questioner that he spoke to Ramsey about the incident and that Ramsey stated he was trying to lean back to get a flick on and he was pushed hard in the back. He even said that Ramsey now has a problem in his neck because of that push.
This whole interaction, along with the way that the Burnley supporters basically kept calling Arsenal softies and cheaters the whole match, highlights an odd reality of being an Arsenal supporter. Their striker, Ashley Barnes, spent the entire match feigning fouls in order to win his team free kicks. This is something I see in every match with the so called “tough” teams – they always have a forward who collapses under any touch to win a free kick. The reason for doing this are multiple: they get to run down the clock and they get to bring up their center backs to try to get a scoring chance.
So, while their players are falling over to win free kicks we are constantly told that our players lack bottle, are soft, or that they don’t like it up em. Why these northern supporters are like this is complicated. There are certainly some built-in nationalistic feelings about the pure male Briton and how his righteousness doesn’t allow him to cheat while them foreigners, and especially the French, are all just effete cheaters. But there is also a toxic masculine identity subculture in football.
I get it. Here in the States us football fans are literally called “fags” and our sport is seen as less manly than American Football. Because to prove that you’re a real man you need to repeatedly smash your head into another 300lb man’s head until you get such severe brain damage that you lose control of your emotions and kill your girlfriend’s sister’s boyfriend. It’s also super manly to take anabolic steroids in order to help bulk you up and to be so fat that you can only play your chosen sport for a few seconds at a time before requiring oxygen. And it’s also manly for your career to last one or two years.
What I’m saying is that over here we have no end of sports fans who would watch Ashley Barnes drop to his knees after Hacktor Bellringer slightly touched him and then turn to me and say “this is why I hate soccer, all dem girls falling over all the time”. I have literally experienced this hundreds of times and it is always followed up with one of those oh-so-clever compilations of footballers diving posted to my wall on Facebook.
The basic gist of this goes: violence is masculine, masculinity is good, therefore violence is good; pretend violence is feminine, feminine is bad, therefore pretend violence is bad. So, while you Burnley supporters are up there in Burnley shouting about the “southern softies” just remember that over here in the States there are even more maniacal versions of you one-upping you in the masculinity stakes.
I think the only answer is that we need to have a duel between these two groups. We will get them helmets and they can smash their heads into a brick wall over and over again. We could literally open this competition up to any men who want to participate and they can all smash their heads into brick walls until they either receive enlightenment and realize just how stupid they are being or they break through that enlightenment and keep smashing their heads forever. The one who smashes his head the most before passing out is the winner and will be crowned “Man of the Year”.
It’s the only way to really settle this.
So, start smashing your heads Burnley dudes! You don’t want to be labeled soft do ya?