Arsenal’s pyrrhic victory over Burnley


Dramatic scenes at the Emirates yesterday as Arsenal ran out 2-1 winners over Burnley, despite being down to 10 men. Arsenal won thanks to a 97th minute offside high boot panenka penalty by Alexis Sanchez. And that sentence pretty much sums Arsenal up at the moment.

Arsenal started the season with five center mids and going into the next game against Southampton will be offering a lottery for fans to come down from the stands and pair with Coquelin. Elneny is in Africa, Xhaka is somewhere in outer space, Cazorla is in the doctor’s office, and that leaves just Coquelin and Ramsey in the midfield. A less than ideal midfield pairing. What’s Wenger going to do? Play Coquelin as the line-breaking midfielder and Ramsey as the midfield center forward? That would almost certainly mean that Arsenal get steamrolled by Southampton and then by Chelsea in the next match.

The reason for this desperate midfield is simple: Granit Xhaka has shit for brains. Seriously. Like if we did an MRI of his head there would literally be a pile of Tottenham. How else can I explain the fact that he does this ridiculous scissors tackle in every match? He did it twice in the game yesterday against Burnley. Yeah, I thought the red card was harsh but if you run around doing scissors tackles you’re going to get a red card every once in a while.

The thing about that tackle is that he doesn’t need to do it. First, he’s not winning the ball. Second, he’s going to ground. The very best result he can hope for out of this shithousery is that his man dribbles past him. The most likely outcome is a foul and probably a yellow card. And the worst is that he breaks someone’s fucking leg. Xhaka needs to cut this shit out.

He is a talented midfielder. He’s got a range of passing unlike anyone I’ve seen at Arsenal since Arteta. But getting himself sent off two or three times a year, plus giving away two penalties, is hurting the team. His discipline is so bad that I’d be hesitant to start him at the moment.

Wenger doesn’t have a choice though. For the next four matches, Arsenal will play with Ramsey and Coquelin in midfield. Hopefully neither of them pick up and injury.

I’m not going to pretend to know how that duo will work. Will Ramsey play deeper, collect the ball from Mustafi, and be Arsenal’s organizing midfielder? Probably, because despite the strides Coquelin has made in his game, he’s not a refined passer. But that’s not Ramsey’s style. He’s much more prone to be the midfielder who arrives in the box. So, who knows how this will work out. Maybe Ramsey will shelve his forward tendencies and play deeper for the betterment of the team? I can only hope.

For me, the big problem with this match, though, is that referee Jon Moss made three huge errors and somehow three wrongs made a right. The first error, and let’s be fair – it wasn’t just Moss, his whole crew had a nightmare, was that no one called the foul on Mustafi by Gay. Gay clearly fouled Mustafi in the box. It should have been a penalty. But the linesman, who has Xhaka for brains, didn’t see it, despite being all of 10 yards away, staring straight at the action, and ostensibly being a trained referee.

That same linesman, however, also didn’t see Koscielny offside, but DID see him get kicked in the face and waved for that foul. That was also the same linesman who told Moss to send off Xhaka. Jon Moss, apparently spent his entire childhood staring at the sun because he didn’t see anything. I’m not sure he made a single call. I think that linesman made them all.

The officiating was infuriating. Early in the first half Defour lunged in on Giroud and nearly broke his leg. Moss called a foul but didn’t give a card. It was one of the worst tackles I’ve seen in years and somehow it didn’t get a card. It was a classic example of English referees allowing English players to be overly physical. And of course later in the day Xhaka is sent off because “he had both feet off the ground.” Surely if that’s the rule there should be multiple sendings off in every match. I’ve seen Man United’s Rojo get away with two-footed tackles twice this season. That Defour lunge had both feet off the ground. Players seem to have both feet off the ground all the time. What’s the actual rule here? Or is this one of those rules like “palming the basketball” which is only applied when the referee wants?

Too many of the rules in football require the referee to guess intent. A handball has to be intentional – though when a player falls over and grabs the ball to stop play, he’s almost never called for an intentional handball. A red card requires the referee to decide if there was “excessive force” in the tackle – which in the case of Xhaka’s tackle was clearly not “excessive” nor even really “force” since he didn’t touch his opponent. Offside is only offside if the player intends to play the ball – though we saw David Silva have a kick out at a cross and that wasn’t called offside, and yesterday Koscielny was about 60,000 leagues offside and that also wasn’t called. Those are only three examples. The list goes on, from “simulation” to obstruction, the laws of the game are applied in what looks like a random fashion.

And you know what? It doesn’t make the game interesting. After the City-Liverpool game, the press called it a “gripping” contest. It was anything but gripping. It was a travesty because two huge referee decisions decided the game. Meanwhile Manchester United seem to have had the offside rule suspended for their matches. The Arsenal match yesterday had three huge blunders. It’s ridiculous, by which I mean a target for ridicule. The Football Association needs to fire the governing body of officiating and hire a new crew before people stop watching English football. I’m serious. I stopped watching the NBA because the officiating looked like it was fixed. In fact, the officiating in the NBA was fixed. Officiating in the Premier League is starting to look like it is fixed. The stench of match fixing cannot get anywhere near English Football or people will not take it seriously.

As for the game, it’s great that Arsenal showed grit and courage and sticktoittiveness to overcome the officiating and win the contest. But Arsenal didn’t get a break from Chelsea and despite climbing into 2nd place are still 8 points off the leaders. Chelsea are looking 68% likely to be League champions this season and you can see why: Arsenal would not only need Chelsea to lose three of their remaining fixtures but also need to win every remaining match to win the League. It’s possible, of course, but implausible. And so it’s looking like a second League title for Cesc Fabregas is in the offing and that 3-3 draw against Bournemouth is looking like it killed Arsenal’s title hopes.

One game at a time.



  1. That foul on Giroud was not called a foul. I think Moss very explicitly indicated a throw in.

    Chelsea’s opening goal yesterday came from an uncalled foul. They also got away with a penalty. Hull were surprisingly good for large parts of the game.

    The whiff of scandal around English refereeing has been there for years. It’s just getting more and more difficult to hide from. However, I will say that I think that the younger refs are generally not being as ‘corrupt’ as some we’ve seen in the past.

    Not among the better refs is Anthony Taylor. Who, along with Jon Moss is going to suddenly discover a puritanical penchant for the rules, like much of the British media, and go all out to get Wenger banned.

  2. Arsenal have a slim chance of winning the title. I can’t imagine them winning at all tbh. Lets just hope that they can gain 10 points lead over 5th place team by 34th game of the league.

    Off topic : ” we just want someone else to do it” whether that “it” is fixing potholes. We like to complain (voting being the ultimate complaint) but we don’t want to do the hard work of being actually involved in the political/corporate enterprise.”
    Spot on.

  3. The amount of protection given referees is infuriating. At worst, it does look like matches are fixed. At best, incompetence nearly across the board enabled by a lack of accountability. I think the pure shiteness of it defies reason and thus makes it seem less like match-fixing. The only pattern I see is Man U not playing with an offside rule and Mike Dean needing a questionable penalty or two every couple games to keep him going.

    On the other hand, playing without Xhaka for 4 games is terrifying. Especially given the need to maintain form if we are even to keep pace with the Chavs. Ramsey has looked better but I don’t trust him to stay deep. I wouldn’t be opposed to trying Iwobi out in the middle if things start to look bad.

    1. I agree with Iwobi playing in the middle during this 4-game run we’ll have to negotiate without Xhaka. My preferred solution would be to play him in front of a double pivot of Coquelin and Ramsey and nominally shift Ozil to the right with Sanchez central and Welbeck on the left. That way, we’ll have just one obvious point of defensive weakness (Ozil on the right)in a position where we can somewhat compensate with offensive strength (Bellerin). The other possibility of playing the defensively solid and improving right-back option of Gabriel will significantly blunt our attacking potential in that sector of the pitch. What of keeping Ozil central and Iwobi on the left? I believe this latter option will simultaneously weaken us through the middle and the left. While Iwobi’s work rate and defensive contribution have improved (he’s probably better in this regard than Ozil), he could still be caught out against the better sides e.g. Chelsea. Of course, a midfield triumvirate of Ozil, Coquelin and Ramsey scares the hell out of me. Having said all that, if Elneny’s Egypt get knocked out early at the AFCON, then the above permutations become pleasantly redundant.

      1. I didn’t think about moving Iwobi to the #10; I had a far more radical change in mind-center of the pitch with Coq. I like the switch to the #10 more, though because, as you pointed out, it’s less risky. I’m really hoping we get a Mali victory over Uganda and Egypt losing to Ghana. It will be nice to have El Neny back, because even if he hasn’t shown great consistency over the course of the season in defending or forward passing, I still see him as better than our current situation.

  4. Lol. I wonder if you anticipated this lack of discipline in Xhaka given how much you wanted him at Arsenal. I think there’s a class midfielder in there for sure

    1. I saw it in him. Thought maybe he would sort it out or that someone would help him sort it out. Great players always improve themselves. I still think he will improve himself and hope he will cut out this streak of lunacy.

    2. I think everyone and their brother thought Xhaka would be a disciplinary risk. I think we now know why Wenger took so long to integrate him into the side, i.e., not until Santi was injured. If only Wenger had played Xhaka in the CL game vs Ludogorets perhaps we’d still have Santi, but I see why he sat him, that was Wenger looking at the long game.

      Wenger being Wenger, he is going to try Ramsey.
      Ramsey being himself, he will do his best for the team. Maybe have a lapse in concentration and get caught upfield, but either way, he will not provide the creativity and security of Cazorla, the long passing of Xhaka or the defense of Coquelin. I’m afraid we’re going to get rolled by a quality press either by Soton or Chelsea.

      After that we’ll probably try Iwobi or Ox next to Coq. Which may give us creativity and ball carrying, but not security of Cazlora and we will remain vulnerable.

      I wish that Arsene were the kind of coach who always had a backup plan. If he were he would have bought Payet at the start of the window and he’d be ready to slot in now. Or he would have insisted on a recall clause for Jack and we’d have him back, full of confidence and ready to lead the team past Cesc.

      Oh well.

  5. Have you got Xahka for brains Tim? Best remove the st best juvenile and at worst something far worse that you would expect from Trump and his supporters. Your better than that.

    1. I had a typo and incomplete sentence. At least you just had a typo?

    2. I appreciate the comment. Actually Gray is a known homophobe. What I’m doing here is something that known homophobes hate: calling him gay. See, gay isn’t a bad word to me. Gay is simply something that people are. However, he would probably be insulted because he hates gays. Anyway, maybe in bad taste? Probably in bad taste.

      1. Thanks Tim, didn’t realised that Gray had this history and I can now appreciate your pun for it’s deeper meaning in this context. Keep up the excellent writing mate.

  6. As Arseblog pointed out today, the foul and penalty to Kos at the end stands whether it is offsides or not. Although it’s obvious he doesn’t see the offside, but it is a really difficult one to see in real-time because the line is moving all over the place. Some serious doubt would have to be in the guy’s mind and that is supposed to go to the attacker.
    I agree Xhaka needs to cut that out but Jon Moss is trash and responsible for 7 match ban on Xhaka for two soft reds. Heck – why no red card for the guy who injured himself taking down Ozil when essentially that was went Xhaka went for earlier in the season? So stupid that we don’t have video replay to assist the refs.
    Also agree it’s BS how little refs need to explain themselves as mentioned above. Heck – it’s obvious they don’t even really need to explain it to the player they are sending off from the way Xhaka was just shooed away by the linesman.
    What a freaking mad game, though. As much as it infuriates me, that was kind of fun even if I did scare the neighbors and heart almost exploded.

  7. Ram + Cog is what is it for the next 4 games. Hopefully something good comes of this, like a 4-3-3 (drop Giroud for an extra midfielder). Or a 3-4-3 with a Koz/Mus/Gabriel backline. Have time to practice, spring a surprise on Southampton and fine tune in time for Chelsea.

  8. I saw Xhaka use his body to smoothly guide a Burnley player away from the ball twice before the red card incident. That reminded me of Arsene’s comment on him a couple of days back and I was feeling good about how he has improved in the few starts he has had for us. Obviously I jinxed it but I still feel that he has improved in the last few weeks. It’s unfortunate he had a rush of blood to his head and he definitely needs to keep working on that but I don’t think he has sh*t for brains – more a case of immaturity and inexperience in this league. Overall, I think he is a pretty intelligent player.

    The officiating was as bad as I have ever seen. I just can’t get my head around the inconsistency of the calls from game to game let alone a single match. It’s not this bad in other leagues and really makes me wonder if there aren’t sinister forces at work – then I realize this is English football and they have always had sh*t referees.

    The RamCoq midfield duo doesn’t exactly inspire confidence but after the red card I saw Ramsey drop deep with Coquelin ahead of him on a number of occasions – so maybe they will surprise us. We have moved away from playing Coq as our deepest midfielder so Ramsey must show that he can curb his attacking tendencies and make plays from deep. Problem is he doesn’t have Xhaka’s range but he might still be able to do a job. I commented on the other thread that this makes Iwobi and Bellerin’s roles even more important as Iwobi will need to make more frequent moves to the center to help in midfield (which he tends to do anyways) with Bellerin providing width.

    But what a game though. It had everything. Last minute goals, penalties, red card, rabona cross, panenka, scorpion kick, touchline ban – you can’t really ask for more excitement in a game. Obviously would prefer a 4 nil walk in the park but there was something very satisfying about our win yesterday.

    1. Ramsey and Coquelin are going to play dynamic, aggressive, vertical football. Ramsey is not going to morph into some possession hoarding regista. You want him at his best, you let him play to his instincts and let him have fun, within reason. Coq is as good of a security blanket for his forays as you’ll find and they can both press the ball and cover tons of ground. If the whole team plays at a high level, this midfield pairing is good enough to beat Chelsea.

      1. I agree that the only way to get the best out of them is for us to (1) get the ball forward quickly (not exactly long balling it, but sort of the way that City played against the Spurs press last weekend: looking to bypass it and play in the opponent’s final third as much as possible), and then (2) high press the hell out of the other team. That’s the one thing that a Coquelin Ramsey partnership can bring to us better than any other partnership. But I still think the loss of a ball-playing midfielder will be more greatly felt than the gain of two high intensity midfield terriers. Plus, if they both press high, we’ll be very vulnerable on the counter, given that Wenger hasn’t trained this team to press in anything like the thorough way that Pochettino and Klopp have for their teams.

  9. I wonder if it makes sense for us to play a 3-5-2 formation with an extra defender now. So we would play 3 CBs – Koz, Mustafi, Gabby; 5 in the middle with Gibbs, Coq, Ramsey, Ozil & Bellerin and then 2 upfront with Giroud and Sanchez. It makes us a bit defensive as we are effectively switching out Iwobi for Gabby whose forward passing is dreadful (though with 3 in the back we won’t be relying on him to break the lines) but I think it would make us more solid defensively and give us an extra man in midfield against teams like Southampton and Chelsea who are sure to press us. Problem is it’s probably too late in the season to tinker with new formations.

      1. Yes, this. Plus:
        1. Giroud really, really, shouldn’t be starting for us if we can help it. He’s great off the bench, mind.

        2. Switching to a back 3 is a very radical mid-season switch for a manager like Wenger who only ever changes things very slowly.

        3. If we are going to do it, it would make sense to play Nacho ahead of Gabriel, for the reason you state.

        4. I’m a big fan of a three man midfield, especially (a) with our current midfield injuries, and (b) in the current PL climate of many teams adopting the high press, jettisoning true number 10’s (e.g. the likes of Eriksen, Alli, Coutinho, and Hazard have all been playing nominally from the flanks in a front 3, but with freedom to roam). Ozil can play as part of a front three with Sanchez and one other mobile player (so not Giroud). But rather than switch to a back three we can just play 4-3-3 and get similar benefits.

        5. Your lineup doesn’t really address the problem of struggling for possession with Ramsey-Coquelin, unless you’re expecting Ozil to do this. But that would require him to drop super deep, which isn’t really his forte, especially this year, when most of his best moments have come playing much more like an out-and-out forward.

        6. In fact, by dropping Iwobi arguably you’d exacerbate the problem. When everyone’s fit and available, we’d have a number of great midfield combinations to choose from, but right now, with so many out, I’d play a three of Iwobi, Coquelin, Ramsey, with the Ox also worth a look-in.

  10. The standard of refereeing in the league has been shite for long time. Koz got kicked in the face and NO card for Ben Mee. Both Hull and ManShitty had stonewall penalties denied. And that’s just in the three games I happened to watch this weekend. Three games and seven major, potentially game deciding decisions wrong–four penalty calls and three red card incidents. And Joey Barton plays despite personally gambling on matches.

  11. The standard of refereeing in the league has been terrible for long time. Koz got kicked in the face and NO card for Ben Mee. Both Hull and ManShitty had stonewall penalties denied. And that’s just in the three games I happened to watch this weekend. Three games and seven major, potentially game deciding decisions wrong–four penalty calls and three red card incidents. And Joey Barton plays despite personally gambling on matches.

  12. I’m not sure why there is a pervasive sense of doom going around about the pairing of Ramsey and Coquelin. If Arsene had every one of his midfielders fit as a fiddle, he may well view that as first choice; after all it’s his best offensive midfielder and best defensive midfielder on the pitch together. Ramsey seems to be rounding into some good form of late and we know he is well capable when fit and firing; meanwhile, Coquelin is by far the best Arsenal player without the ball besides Laurent Koscielny. I know we are all scarred by last year’s midfield injuries, but it’s not like we’re staring down the barrel of Mathieu Flamini or Kim Kallstrom for three months. Xhaka’s a fine player but it’s debatable whether he is even in our best XI right now. It’s possible this pairing is our pathway to Peak Ramsey, 2014 vintage, and Peak Ramsey may well be our best hope for the title. I say that because it’s the most uncertain department in our team this season and if we sort that out, then we really will be some team. Will it happen that way? I have no idea. But there’s a much higher than zero chance that it could happen that way and it’s at least an equally plausible scenario to the doomsday events detailed above. Most likely, as always, is something in between.

    1. Even Peak Ramsey (and I did like Peak Ramsey quite a lot), though he was using the ball much more assuredly and intelligently than he has of late, was not a deep lying creator type, e.g. a Xavi (or Busquets, for that matter), Xabi Alonso, Toni Kroos, Chelsea’s Cesc, Verratti, Cazorla over the last few years, etc, etc. Most teams who play a possession game need one of those players sitting at the base of their midfield. They don’t have to be on the Xavi or Pirlo level, but they do have to be very secure with the ball under often intense pressure, show exceptional in-game intelligence, and be at least above average in range, accuracy, and weight of passing. I don’t think Ramsey has been those things, maybe ever, and certainly not for a long time. When he was at his best he had Arteta next to him playing that role. Coquelin is superior to Arteta in several departments, but calmness in possession isn’t one of them.

      1. And for the record; you say that Ramsey is our best attacking midfielder (do Ozil and Iwobi count as forwards then?), that he and Coq may be Arsene’s first choice central partnering, and that Xhaka may not be in our starting 11; in reply, I say–in spite of them being apples and oranges, in spite of Xhaka’s recklessness–I’d have Xhaka in our team ahead of Ramsey EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK.

        1. The basic fallacy you’re committing is the assumption that every midfield needs at least one of a certain type of player in order to flourish. The examples you raise are of exceptional midfielders but not only do you pigeonhole them, you also neglect to mention the systems around them that allowed them to excel in specific ways that benefited the grand organism of their teams in ways they couldn’t have in a different setup. Secondarily, you assume the players in question don’t have the requisite skills, despite the fact that Aaron Ramsey has always passed the ball at a high level while both he and Coq have the ability to pass and move; and thirdly you assume other qualities they may bring, strengths in other areas, are not going to balance the apparent shortcoming you identified in the grand equation of team function. It’s three assumptions you making, and rather big ones at that.

          1. 1. Aaron Ramsey’s passing has been very, very average for a few years now. He under/overhits balls all the time. He misplaces simple passes because he rushes, then in the next instant he holds onto the ball way too long meaning when he plays it to a teammate they’re suddenly marked. He plays it backwards when he has the chance to open up his body and play through the lines. Etc. (For the record: I thought he was good against Burnley! I don’t hate him!)

            2. I don’t know what you mean by saying I “pigeonhole” these players. I’m making a generalization, describing a number of admittedly different players as all being similar in at least one respect. This is sort of inevitable if we’re going to compare players and talk about different playing styles and roles in a team, etc. I’m not suggesting any of these players are exactly alike or don’t have other facets to their games. I would have thought this was obvious.

            3. I’m not neglecting to consider the systems. As I mentioned, this sort of player (very generally construed) tends to be very important for a possession based team, which Arsenal have been (again, speaking in useful generalizations) pretty much the entire time that Arsene has been in charge, and certainly in the last decade.

            4. I don’t doubt we can tweak our style in order to get the best out of our available players–see my reply to your earlier comment above. I just don’t think (a) in the middle of the season we’re suddenly going to completely revolutionize our style to play high tempo, high press, and (b) the qualities that RamCoq could bring IF we change our style sufficiently compensate for what we’re losing in having a “conductor” type player like Xhaka in there.

            5. I don’t assume Ramsey and Coquelin don’t have the requisite skills. In fact, look below at my reply to your other comment to see that I’ve actually said pretty much the exact opposite: they probably DO have the requisite skills. But there’s a big difference between being capable of something, and actually being likely to produce something when called upon on a consistent basis. I haven’t seen anything recently to suggest that RamCoq are going to keep hold of and pass the ball like we probably need them to if we’re going to play well, particularly in transitioning from defense to attack, over the next few games.

            6. If by an “assumption” you mean a view that is implicit in my argument, then it’s simply false that I’ve “assumed” that Ramsey and Coquelin’s strengths won’t balance out their weaknesses: again I would direct you to my earlier comment where I EXPLICITLY STATE that I believe their weaknesses will be greater than what they bring to the team, even if we can successfully tweak our style to suit them better (which I fear is unlikely). However, if by “assumption” you mean a view that I have not provided a supporting argument for, then I readily concede that I am making this “assumption”. There’s only so much we can argue for when it comes to football–in the end we each have our opinions and we have to agree to disagree. But I’d point out that in this same sense you’ve also just “assumed” that RamCoq’s strengths ARE going to compensate for their weaknesses, without providing any real evidence to make us think this will be so. Maybe you’ll be right. Maybe not. Time will tell. Personally, I hope you’re right, because that makes it more likely that Arsenal will keep winning games.

  13. Appreciate Dr Gooner’s optimism, but I ain’t haven’t it. Chaka in the sin bin for games? Ain’t gonna do it for us guvna. We’re done like dinner unless the boss pulls a tactical rabbit out his are, innit?

    We’re done lads and ladies, this is it. Unless, unless…

  14. I will deink a toast to the Return of Welsh Jesus.

    But I don’t see how he will beat the press. I like the 3-5-2 plan better, if only we had time to perfect it. Welbz might fit it better than Giroud.

    1. Arsene’s already embraced a sort of chaotic, high tempo style this season, trusting that his individual players can leverage those situations better than the opposition, and Aaron definitely has more talent to do that than any other midfielder on the books.

      Arsene’s never played 3 at the back (as far as I remember) so learning to do that on the fly would be a fool’s errand in my book. We have to trust RamCoq to do it. They are more than capable. Much more important than the vagaries of the midfield between roughly equally capable individuals is a consistently focused and totally committed team performance, regardless of what tactics you deploy.

      1. I know we all have our favorite players on here, but I just don’t see evidence over the last couple of seasons to suggest that RamCoq are “more than capable” of doing it. Strictly speaking, I guess that’s a true statement, as I think they both have the bare physical talent to play well enough for us together. But there’s a big difference between what someone is strictly speaking capable of and what they are likely to produce on a regular basis. Last season when Ramsey and Coq were partnered together, they showed nothing to suggest that they could offer the “technical security” (as Arsene would say) and transition the ball up the pitch on a regular basis against a good side, especially one who presses high. I hope I’m proved wrong this year, but I fear the worst over the next few games.

  15. I agree that the officiating in the Premier League has been pretty appalling for a long time, and if anything is getting worse.

    But here’s a question I’ve always wondered, and I’m curious to see what others think: to what degree is the terribly arbitrary and inconsistent and just downright unfair way that many matches are refereed down to incompetence (or worse), and to what degree is it inherent in the nature of football (in particular, in comparison with other sports)????

    I’m not suggesting that things couldn’t be considerably improved, particularly in some areas (e.g. start booking keepers for time wasting before the 85th bloody minute!!), and obviously having video replays would sort out, e.g., offsides, really quickly. But I worry that the rest of the laws of the game are just too fundamentally vague, and the action is just too fluid, and the game just too low-scoring, for us to ever significantly eradicate the phenomenon of big refereeing errors having a consistent unwanted (and largely unjust) effect on the outcome of matches. (Or at least, I worry that in order to change, the governing body is going to have to make genuine efforts to tweak the sport, e.g. redressing the balance a little bit towards offense so that it’s a little less low scoring and consequently a single goal-causing/preventing ref decision is less likely to determine the outcome of the match, but the powers that be will almost certainly never do this (and in any event, that particular change wouldn’t address red card calls like Xhaka’s).)

    I’ve got more opinions on the matter, but I’ve also got work to do now, so I’ll leave it there.


    1. It may be that the nature of the game requires a certain leeway for refs to “interpret” the laws, but it seems to me that the root of the problem is inconsistency in interpretation to the point of perceived bias. One solution would be the application of video replays beyond simple “offside/not offside, over the live/not over the line”-type decisions to include every case where this interpretation is questionable, but I can’t see how that would be either practical or acceptable to the FA. But credibility is being seriously undermined, both among players and fans.

      On Xhaka, I think Tim’s assessment of his decision-making, while fair, removes the focus from the ref’s absurd decisions for both red cards, neither of which were remotely sending off offenses. Stupid tackles perhaps, but dangerous or with intent to harm? Not remotely. Personal agenda at work? See previous paragraph.

    2. It seems to me that the basic problem with Premier League officiating is a lack of professionalism on the part of the referees. Some of the referees – including, for example, Jon Moss – are, for example, not in the kind of physical condition that you would reasonably expect of someone whose job entails running around for 90 minutes. The reason why he is asking his linesman (who is also overweight) for assistance is that he is unable to stay close enough to the action half of the time, which means he cannot see what is going on. If those who are paid to officiate in what is a multi-billion dollar/pound industry can’t even maintain a decent level of physical fitness, what hope is there for working to improve their decision-making?

    3. Increase the number of referees. Open up the PL to refs from outside the north of England.(and maybe all of England) Make it known what criteria is used to judge the referees. Let them speak to the media to present what they saw, including admitting to mistakes. Stop treating them as close to infallible beings who get ‘99% decisions correct’. Mic them up during games and explain their decisions to the players and TV audience.

      The problem is not just the decisions. It is the complete secrecy and lack of accountability. (They even pay hush money to retiring refs) If only 16-20 refs in all of England are deemed worthy of being at the top level, someone needs to be accountable for it, and explain why they should remain in charge. Especially when those 16 are wildly inconsistent and some show constant bias for and against certain teams.

      All the rest, about the nature of the game etc is correct. So if you do all you can (or even something) to minimise the impact of a single ref and atone for poor decisions, I think the public will accept the bad with the good. Right now, it seems there is no interest in making it a fairer, better reffed game. The more arbitrary the better. That can only lead to loss of faith.

    4. The biggest problem is the complete lack of will on football’s governing bodies to even acknowledge there’s a major problem with officiating. The EPL, FIFA, and the FA are in complete denial that a problem even exists, despite multiple instances of errors in major, game deciding decisions every single weekend. FIFA considers banning offsides a better way to improve the game than making match officiating better.

      For me, the only way forward is for the sporting press, and to a lesser extent, players and managers, to start highlighting the problem. The furor over Wenger pushing Taylor’s arm away from his body and punditry calls for a lengthy ban while ignoring the fact that there were four major, game changing decisions wrong in that same game is ridiculous. I had high hopes that with increased American network coverage of the EPL that there would be calls to improve officiating in similar ways to major US sports but that doesn’t seem to be happening. I wonder if NBC is afraid of losing the broadcasting rights if they stir the pot over this issue.

      There are multiple simple ways of improving refereeing. More refs per game and actually using some of the billions raked in by governing bodies to pay refs more and make them more professional. Video review for selected calls during the match and also for reviewing calls post-match. Clarification of the laws of the game to allow less leeway for individual interpretation. None of these will happen until the EPL acknowledges the problem.

    5. I think we have a lot to learn from field hockey: no offside anymore, temporary exclusions, self pass (a player that was fouled can take the ball and carry on playing immediately while opponents less than 2 meters away can’t touch him. It increases the pace of the game enormously), unlimited player substitutions, shootouts instead of penalties to decide a game (the player facing the keeper starts from the middle of the pitch and has 8 seconds to score. Very spectacular.) and, to answer your question, a number of video challenges available to each team, whenever they are sceptical about a decision (and, like in tennis, any upheld challenge does not count as a used challenge). This latter hockey feature together with clearer guidelines, followed by punishment (no shirt pulling ever,…) would clearly limit the number of times a match is decided on referee mistakes.

  16. Coq does not even as much as show himself for a pass from the rear. Am afraid Ramsey loves the extra touch and the pair, likely, would be susceptible to the high press. But they would be quite adequate against teams we would normally dominate like Watford.

    Agaisnt high pressing teams and the bigger teams like Chelsea, I would favour a 4:3:3 which to me, first and foremost, means Sanchez as false 9, with Giroud on the bench. Iwobi who is a good ball carrier, good passer and who seems able to work in tight spaces drops into the midfield three to give more or less a 4:1:2:3 with Coq as the1. With such a line up in such a formation those Ramsey’s idiosyncrasies might turn net positive.

    1. Coq doesn’t show for passes because he is often used as a decoy to make space for others. He doesn’t have to drop in front of the D and we don’t necessarily have to play with a classic “passing outlet” as one of the central midfield pair. Cech can just boot it long to Giroud and we can play the knockdowns; or Cech can play down the right to Bellerin who can combine with Ozil and Ramsey to bring it forward; or Ozil can drop deep and link play; or Koscielny/Mustafi can drive into half spaces and look for throughballs. I think a combination approach like that is probably the healthiest approach anyway. But realistically, it’s not like we were great against the press with Xhaka so I don’t get all the anxiety about beating the press with Ramsey. It’s been a weakness all year regardless of who has been out there.

      The formation you describe was used by Wenger to beat Man City in 2015 and worked well as a counter attacking setup where we sought to deny space instead of control possession. That, fundamentally, is not the identity of this team and never was. It might be worth a try against Chelsea, but Chelsea’s not as much of a possession oriented team at all so playing a compact block against them would be akin to playing for 0-0. That would be fine if we were good at playing for 0-0 (we aren’t) or more importantly if that was the result we needed at the Bridge (obviously not).

      We need to win at Chelsea. The best way to do that, in my opinion, will be to put the back line under pressure with an energetic press. Few players on the roster do that better than Coquelin. Let him play on the front foot, let him terrorize Chelsea players as they try to play out, let him force turnovers. I lost count of how many goals he’s contributed to by dispossessing the opposition in their own half. That will be our best route to goal against one of the best defensive squads in the league, just as it was when we hosted them.

  17. Iwobi deeper in a 4:3:3 might just be it for him and the team. His weak link when he is with the ball is the bit of stage fright that gets to him as he drives into the opponent’s box. Maybe, he should be given time to mature playing in his comfort zone MF.

  18. referee’s not getting video help is absurd. they clearly need it, especially in england.

    i thought the sending off was harsh. when moss didn’t book xhaka right away, i knew he was going to send him off. the young man needs to understand he has a reputation that precedes him and he’s low-hanging fruit for some referees trying to make themselves significant.

    i believe ramsey and coquelin can do a job but arsenal need to bring francis back to the #6 spot. he can play that role, although he’s not as good as santi or xhaka. he is better there than ramsey. maybe arsene will play ramsey and coquelin as two #8s with no dm (like vieira and petit). ramsey’s played well over the past three games and i’m glad coquelin is no longer injured. coquelin’s passing seems to have taken a step backwards since the last international break. we’ll continue to monitor.

    i’m expecting wenger to get a ban for the push on the fourth official. we’ll see.

  19. Many good points mentioned but I think everyone is being too harsh on PL referees.
    I hope this doesn’t sound condescending but having played proffesional football in Poland’s first division in the eighties and still having tapes of some of my games, the difference in the speed of the game between then and now is simply staggering.

    The PL athletes, much like their Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s, are the fastest players around in any team sport, with a penchant for play acting( cheating), while the PL refs are probably no fitter or quicker than the officials working the games in the eighties.

    The NFL games have 7 refs working each game and technology to back them up and until the PL implements as much technology for as many not judgment calls as posible, the quality of referring won’t improve much.

    How many replays do we look at from how many different angles to determine what exactly happened on some of those controversial plays, two, three?
    Yet sometimes we still argue about the outcome after having looked at them repeatedly.
    These guys have a split of a second to make a decision and they need more help, simple.

  20. Having thought about it, I think the real problem in English refereeing is how the league markets itself. Since it is marketed as the toughest league where any club can beat anyone else, the difference in technical level is allowed to be made up through ‘tough tackling’. Part of the reason Arsenal suffers among the most is because of the perception (and reality) of us being technically great but soft fancy foreigners, meaning refs allow even more roughhouse play against us, and punish us more for any of our own. (Howard Webb said as much)

    This would explain why they don’t care about improving the refereeing either, since it would be deemed to be a risk that it brings about a crucial change to their already very successful product.

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