Dean and Atkinson deny Arsenal three points

It’s been 24 hours since the game and I’m still livid.

I understand that Arsenal struggled to create chances in this match. We have had that problem all season and Sheffield United did a fantastic job preventing Arsenal playing up through the middle of the pitch. So, credit to them for sticking to their game plan and executing well.

Credit to Sheffield United also for shutting down Arsenal’s makeshift right back, Ainsley Maitland-Niles who completed a pedestrian 42/55 passes (76%). All of the Arsenal outfield players struggled and the team completed just 80.7% of their passes and just 71% of their final third passes.

This continues Arsenal’s alarming trend (from since firing Wenger) of struggling to progress the ball from the back through the midfield to the forwards:

But we knew this was going to be a tight game. Sheffield play with 8 men crowding the center of the pitch. Arsenal were incapable of getting into the area between the lines, which made the wide play all the more important:

So, this was an important match for Arsenal’s wide players – Saka, Martinelli, Pepe, and Maitland-Niles. And by and large they delivered. Saka created the goal from the left and Pepe created a second goal from the right.

Wait.. what? Oh yeah, that’s right, Mike Dean and Martin Atkinson denied Arsenal and Pepe a stonewall penalty.

This is just what Mike Dean does in Arsenal matches. He’s been a referee since 2000. He’s refereed 73 Arsenal matches. He’s given Arsenal 5 penalties.

For most of that time, there seemed to be an embargo on Wenger and Wenger even confronted Dean after he awarded West Bromwich Albion a late penalty for a supposed handball by Calum Chambers. Mike Dean complained to the FA saying:

“As we’ve entered the dressing room after the game Mr Wenger stood behind us in the doorway and told the West Brom steward to ‘let him in’. He was very aggressive leaning towards me, pointing aggressively at me saying ‘you’re not honest’ on numerous occasions. I replied ‘so you’re calling me a cheat’. He replied ‘I maintain what I say, you’re not honest’.

“He then said ‘you’ve done this to us many times before, you’re supposed to be professional, you’re a disgrace’. He was then ushered out of the room by the West Brom safety officer.”

And Mike Dean’s record against Arsenal is clear:

Mike Dean penalties awarded (2000-2020):

  • Mike Dean career: 500 matches, 162 penalties – a penalty every 3.08 matches
  • Man City: 15 in 72 – 1 every 4.8 matches
  • Man U: 16 in 71 – 1 every 4.4 matches
  • Chelsea: 12 in 70 – 1 every 5.8 matches
  • Spurs: 11 in 69 – 1 every 6.3 matches
  • Arsenal: 5 in 73 – 1 every 14.6 matches

His record was worse back when Wenger was in charge, it was just 3 pens for Arsenal in 64 matches. Atkinson was the VAR referee and he has a similar record with Arsenal, awarding a penalty for the Gunners every 8 matches.

In 20 years of watching Premier League football and over 10 years of writing this blog I have learned that it doesn’t matter if the contact is minimal, if the player is going down before the contact, and if player can’t win the ball back. All of that is irrelevant. Wayne Rooney won those penalties all the time. He would kick the ball into the stands, run at a keeper, fall over to draw contact, kick out at the keeper to ensure contact, and win penalties all day.

And this season Man U have won 9 penalties. NINE PENALTIES. And they are 9th in the League in passes into the penalty area.

So, yeah, I’m still angry.



  1. After anger comes acceptance , I think that’s where I am heading it happens so often it’s beyond ridiculous but nice to see I’m not the only one with a tin foil hat , VAR is fucking us over as the refs have been doing for some time there is something very wrong when there is consistency in the wrong calls and your Dean numbers unlike my ranting carry weight and implications of wrongdoing, Riley and his men are not honest.

    * I think Dean has improved his refereeing in Arsenal games since Arsene left , I think he tries to be honest bust first and foremost he tries to make it about himself and now here we are on our freetime talking about him.

  2. Thanks for this well researched post. It has troubled me since the final whistle of that game, how both the ref and VAR conspired to deny Pepe a penalty when it was obvious to anyone watching. Clearly, an agenda by Dean. The converse is what he would have done had Mustafi had been the one making that tackle on another attacker.
    It’s a shame for the PGMOL to see these repeated “errors” against Arsenal and not take some punitive action. I won’t hold my breath for that though.

  3. I dont blame Dean so much. Dean was Deaning… being the godawful, preening twit (you can sub the vowel if you like), not-as-good-as-he-thinks-he-is referee that he is. I blame Atkinson. He paused the game, looked at an incident of a player sticking his leg out after the ball had gone and tripping the attacker in the box; and he decided that Dean got that right. What was Pepe expected to do? Hurdle his leg? Xhaka does that and Dean does not hesitate to pointy to the spot.

    This is precisely what VAR is meant to correct.

    1. I feel like if I said “I told you that VAR wouldn’t benefit Arsenal” it would be a bit harsh.

  4. For me, the most impressive thing about Salah’s superb, counter-attacking goal, was that he raised a full gallop in the 93rd minute. I can assure you that all of Arsenal’s attackers — PEA, Laca, Pepe — would have ballsed that up. Because they’d have been dead on their feet by then.

  5. I’m convinced there is some agenda too but my biggest question is why. We are not challenging for the title or top 4 for that matter.

  6. Every time we score I dread VAR will find a way to overturn it. (see C Palace) And very time an opponent slips or claims a foul I fear VAR will give it. It feels like none of this is objective anymore when it comes to Arsenal. What is good for one team is not enough for us. But then I’m sure every other fan feels the same way

  7. It will take more than Arteta’s passion, industriousness, and intelligence to rescue us from mediocrity. The whole club and owner needs smelling salts. We are s-$t and the longer we stay out of Champions League the longer it will take to get back in the money. Sad days.

  8. I actually thought that up until the penalty decision Dean had a good game.
    He booked the Sheffield player early on for a borderline yellow card foul on Laca.
    But once he waved the pen away I knew Atkinson wasn’t overturning it.
    Not because he has it in for us ( he might) but rather because earlier in the season he booked Zaha for diving in a similar situation, after Zaha went over Chambers ‘ stuck out leg.
    Which was overturned by some Aussie dude in the VAR studio who apparently never officiated aPL game.
    Dean’s Arsenal pen record is ridiculous and I can’t wait for that dentist looking mf er to retire.
    Here’s my question though.
    Dean was calling the game, Atkinson was in VAR room , and Mike Riley ( the unholy trinity) was actually sitting in the expensive seats at the game.
    How lame are the match going Arsenal fans for not taking this opportunity to give them their piece of mind?
    A few years back I had a chance to watch Liverpool play at Anfield while sitting amongst Liverpool fans.
    The level of abuse directed at opponents, refs ,or anyone they deemed a fair game was staggering.
    No wonder Anfield is a fortress.
    Arsenal fans are so …….middle class.

    1. The volume at the Emirates seems to have improved. But you’re right-we’re nowhere close to an Anfield level collective voice. That voice should be used more often to abuse referees, not our own players.

  9. paul davis treatment for his left hook… “91” we got docked 2 points man u 1.. “stick your 2 points up your a***”.. patrick vieira spitting saga.. the 50th game.. eduardo’s “dive” against celtic.. henry’s handball against the irish..
    “the needle returns to the start if the day” etc etc

  10. Interesting post Tim

    I am never one to believe in conspiracy theories and I can’t see anything that Dean would have to gain from targeting Arsenal but the data is hard to argue with.

    I think the fact that we have struggled to move the ball thru the midfield to the forwards has been a chronic problem. The fact that its been the same with several different managers who have different philosophies suggests the problem is with the players. Cazorla was really good at moving the ball thru the midfield with pace but since he went away we just have not had players who are really good at do that. There not much a manager can do if his players are not good at a specific skill. Same thing with goal scoring. So far this season we are on pace to score only 50 PL goals all season. I think the reason we are struggling score goals because other then Auba we don’t have any players who are good at scoring goals. Last season Lacazette chipped in with low teens in PL and we had more help from the midfield but this year Auba is our only legitimate scorer.

  11. Its a very small sample size but Arteta has done a very good job of getting the team to play better defense but I think we need to recruit some better attacking midfield options a couple more goal scorers.

  12. Ever since 2008, I’ve believed in there being corruption in the league, which, for some reason, targets Arsenal more than most, and probably most consistently.

    Dean is actually a good referee when he wants to be. But he is not honest. The problem though is the other Mike. Riley. Who runs the pgmol. Him taking over is about the point that refs in the league got worse.

    As for Atkinson not changing the decision, it was always going to happen with the way Riley has implemented VAR. Senior refs stick together and don’t tell the other they are wrong, unless absolutely necessary. But didn’t they say they’d have the refs go to the monitors from this weekend? Wenger had called them out on it.

    Anyway, so I expected something like this. I expected the rest of the game to go much as it did. So I’m not angry. This season is basically a write off in the league. If we can get some performances going, maybe we can hope to win the EL.

    I’m much more concerned with the steps we take to rebuild this side. Short term/haphazard deals for agents’ benefit like Kurzawa, and we’ll continue to fall behind.

  13. Interesting statistics. To ensure that these stats are not a consequence of the way Arsenal play (for example they would spend less time in the box than other teams), it would be useful to confirm that in general, other referees give Arsenal more or less the same amount of penalties than they give other teams. I expect it will be the case, in which case it will be perfectly clear that Dean is, consciously or not, a cheat.

    1. Interestingly I think VAR would provide data on that. Assuming that all goals are reviewed by VAR and that this sufficiently controls for referee bias in making the call for VAR in the first place, I’m guessing this would constitute a pseudo experiment to evaluate whether final decisions benefit Arsenal less.

  14. VAR was meant for the grey areas in football, the biggest crime in football are the words feeling and think. Decisions that refs make are based on a feeling or thought instead of what actually happened. Pepe went down under the challenge that’s a penalty but the ref then feels he was looking for it, he thinks there wasn’t enough contact. var should make it factual was there contact yes, did he bring him down yes. If that was done in the centre circle was that a freekick Yesss! so how is that not a penalty? We might end up with robots refereeing 20 years from now. Because the Var official will still use his sense of feeling and thought before passing a correct call.

  15. Why are Arsenal’s player’s clearly unfit compared with other Premier League teams? Wolverhampton, Sheffield, Everton, Burnley are all more physical and fitter than our squad. How has this happened?

    Why is it Liverpool’s player’s are so much fitter than any other team in the league. Reminded me of that time when Chelsea were dominating the league and they were doing blood transfusion’s and all manner of nefarious practices which they never got caught for (just think of the club’s ownership and the IAAF banning a particular country for doping!). Is this what FSG and Klopp doing at Liverpool. I can’t understand how they are maintaining these performance level’s having played the number of games that they have played! Anyone…?

  16. Forget the VAR decision, in my opinion it was 50/50. Seen them given, seen them not given prior to VAR. So let’s not distract from the fact that Sheffield Utd were very much good for that point and IMHO were the better team and could have easily have taken all 3 points. Arteta is persisting with Ozil and Xhaka because he has no other options. They weren’t terrible but they weren’t match winner’s either. Xhaka isn’t athletic enough to be in a team in the top half of the Premier league. AMN was pedestrian at RB again. He’s not a solution in this position and we need cover for Bellerin and to move AMN back into midfield.

  17. Its interesting that if you look watched the game it looked to me like Ozil touched the ball a lot and made a lot of short passes that didn’t create anything and he didn’t make us look dangerous. He didn’t hurt us but did not do anything of importance. However, if you look at the stat sheet without watching the game you would think he was the most creative and best player on the pitch. He had the highest pass accuracy, made the most passes in the attacking half, made the most final 1/3 passes and hardest to believe he created 4 chances which were more then anyone else. When I saw that I wondered how in the world he could have created 4 chances when I did not remember anything. Then I went back and watched the game again and he rolled a 10 yard pass to Torriera about 25-30 yards from goal at 31 minutes and Torriera decided to shoot. He passed to Luiz around 51 minutes about 35 yards from goal on a set piece and Luiz took a shot that missed by a mile the other 2 “chances created” were probably on corner kicks were the pass cleared the first defender. Those were the only passes that could have been considered a “chance created” and none had a legitimate chance of being turned into actual goals scored.

    I think this goes a long ways to explain how Ozil can have been the leading “chance creator” for Arsenal and for Germany over the last couple years and yet he has almost no assists. If a reasonable percentage of the passes that were being called a chance created were high percentage scoring chances then logically he would have to record some assists. The point of this is not to pick on Ozil because I thought he played very much like he has in almost every game Since he signed the big contract but the point is to suggest how misleading some of these stats are. A player can be a stat sheet superstar without actually doing anything that had real positive influence on the game.

    1. I really don’t think so because this other hypothetical superstar would also need to have his teammates take shots 30 yards from goal too.

  18. Dean wasn’t awful. At full-speed, live, that probably was a 50/50 call. But in slow-mo, that looked a pretty clear penalty. Something that would get awarded 80-90% of the time. I’d agree that at this point, VAR has been a fair negative for Arsenal.
    Ozil played OK, but missed a couple of important passes. And was guilty, as frequently, of trying an extra pass when he should have shot from the top of the 18.
    Arteta has improved the defense. Particularly impressive considering the injury issues. But the offense is struggling. Between lack of link to the front and inconsistent scoring from anyone other than Auba and Martinelli, we’ve got an issue. Pretty sure that in in only two PL games this season has Arsenal had a 2 goal lead at any point in match, ManU and West Ham.

  19. Ozil was good in the match. If the team is struggling to hold on to the ball and he is doing it then he is helping in possesion. Keeping the ball in the final third is more difficult than other parts of the pitch. Also, Arsenal played differently. Ozil generally played near Pepe but in this match he was more on the left. Arteta can do tactics without stopping us from playing. Arsenal played against a team that is better than us. The fact that Sheffield have more points after 23 games should make that obvious. So, we had a bad first 10 mins, then came to grips, scored and maintained the lead for a long time. The commentators expected Sheffield to take all the points, they did not. Unlike Arteta’s hair Arsenal cannot hold it together for the full 90. We will get there, 3 more weeks and we will no longer concede late goals frequently. I thought it was a penalty. Pepe did not dangle a leg. He was going for the ball. He was tacked right across the shins. I think because of his image of being a dribbler refs are hesitant to award him penalties.

  20. Ozil did not do anything wrong but he is supposed to be the player who helps to break down the defense in final 1/3 and create high percentage scoring opportunities and despite what the chance created or key pass stats or any other stat might suggest he just does not do that anymore.

    Pepe was a world class stat sheet superstar last season in France. I never watched him play in France and perhaps he was as good as the stats suggested but he certainly has struggled to have much impact with Arsenal. I think a big part of the problem with the “higher level stats” is many of the stats we use are completely subjective. What one reviewer will call a chance created or a key pass is different from another reviewer. Rolling a 10 yard pass to someone who shoots from 30 yards and has no realistic chance to score is not really a chance created but that is how its recorded. Does a player who dribbles past an opponent in his own half but never does anything to create a dangerous situation gets credit for a dribble completed? Alex Iwobe and Ox were often eye catching and sometime exciting players until they made it to the attacking 1/3 and they both struggled to create much end product. I think tackling and defensive stats can also misleading. Most good defenders stay on their feet whenever possible.

  21. since wenger left, arsenal seem to have a problem creating chances. i’ve noticed that both emery and arteta use a double-pivot. with the way arteta has the team set up, i think the double pivot is redundant when in possession given arsenal play with inverted wing backs. perhaps he’s determined to shore up the defense first and is looking to keep a few clean sheets before expanding the arsenal attack. with that, arsenal have only allowed two goals in the last 4 games and those were deflected goals; a positive.

    in the previous thread, i mentioned how arsenal struggled to create chances because of mesut’s tendency to drift into the wide areas as opposed to staying close to the center forward. i talked about how giroud had success with the likes of griezmann and hazard who tended to stay closer to him than ozil. i’m hoping arteta allows the guy in the #8 spot a little bit of liberty getting forward to support the center forward when mesut drifts. also, notice with the goal the other day, mesut drifted into the wide left area so martinelli checked with him and was in a position to score that goal when the cross came in.

    what’s the way forward with all of this? there are several ways but they’ll come down to what arteta wants to do.

    1. the double-pivot seemed to become en vogue after the ’06 world cup when france used vieira and makalele in that role. those guys aren’t going to score or create many goals primarily because of their defensive duties. many teams have used it but i don’t recall anyone using it while scoring plenty of goals to the degree france did. the key i seem to remember is that when france had the ball, vieira joined zidane supporting the france attack while makalele sat. i don’t know if arsenal are trying that but it’s not working yet. we’ll see what happens moving forward.

  22. It does not surprise me at all that Arsenal win fewer and concede more penalties then most would expect. It makes sense teams that counter attack are awarded more penalties because the defense has not had a chance to set up and organize and defenders are under a lot more pressure during a counter attack and tend to make quicker and sometimes bad decisions. During the Wenger era and even now we have always been a team that is not a great defensive team and the opposition looks to counter attack and we have always been vulnerable to counter attacks which puts us at more risk for conceding penalties.

    We have not been a counter attacking team instead we tend to have more ball possession and pass the ball around in the opposition half looking for openings. However that allows the opposition time to get their defense set up and organized and allows closer man marking and the defense can watch the game unfold in front of them and they can track runners. I think when the defense is set up and organized its seems logical that it would be less likely to concede a penalty.

  23. I still can’t explain the Mike Dean significant difference in penalty stats that Tim had in his post based on our style of play. The idea that he consciously targeting Arsenal seems hard to accept. There has to be a motive and what benefit would he get?

  24. I have heard the anti Arsenal bias and corruption theories for many years with the guys at Untold Arsenal being the leaders of the conspiracy theorists. However, Arsenal has not been a real threat to the teams at the top of the table at any time in this decade. We have not finished closer then 10 points behind the first place team in any season in this entire decade. The idea that someone would be paying the refs all of these years to target Arsenal when we are not really a threat makes absolutely no sense

  25. I don’t think we were that great at creating chances in the last year of the Wenger era. Prior to Wengers last season we had Cazorla and Ozil and Nacho before they both started to fade. Bellerìn could create some havoc down the right wing and before him we had Sagna. We also had players like Ramsey, Wilshere and Rosicky on the rare occasion when any of them were healthy. I am not sure the problem is as much about a change of system because in the early and mid part of this decade then we had a lot more players who were really good at creating chances and we have not really replaced them with players of similar ability to create.

  26. I agree with Klopp’s philosophy and by far the best way to create high percentage chances is to win the ball back in a dangerous position and run a quick counter attack and get the ball to your goal scorers in the opposition penalty area before the opposition defense can set up and organize.

  27. Arsene always built his teams around his midfield creative players and he filled his squad with those type of players and he relied on them to create chances. However in the last couple years of his reign Cazorla got hurt, Ozil started to fade, Wilshere and Rosicky were never healthy and Ramsey started to get the recurring muscular injuries and we have not replaced those players with playmakers of anywhere close to similar ability. We have never been a team that is good at high pressing and winning the ball back in dangerous areas so we don’t really create chances that way which leaves this current squad without a good way to create chances. The best option we have comes from the wide areas.

    1. I might have missed your thoughts on it over the last few blog posts, but the Astros controversy made me think of you and your belief in their statistical modelling. More specifically, the example you thought it set for Arsenal and StatsDNA

  28. Shard–
    Do the crime. Do the time.
    Still. Always much less discussion of what additional teams may have engaged in similar uses of tech. This wasn’t happening in a vacuum– with just the Astros and Red Sox.

    Still. All of it unnecessary. Using technology to steal signs. In this age MLB needs to discard physical signals and use accepted technology as in US football to convey info to pitcher and catcher– and batter, runners, and base coaches.

    Still. The oddest aspect is the background noise from players expressing it may have been more distracting than helpful. A team can only use their system at their ballpark. So, for half the games (81). In 2017? Astros finished 101-61. Only 48-33 at Minute Maid Park. While 53-28 away. (Similar splits in 2018 H-46-35 / A-57-24.) Defies historical context.

    As for the Astros and StatDNA …
    Felt there was a similar window to the one the Astros enjoyed from 2010-to-2016 — for Arsenal (from 2013-to-2019). Where application of deeper, more granular data could lead to identifying traits in players at a younger age– to stock farm systems / youth academies. Affording the Astros an incredible abundance of talent that allowed them to pull the trigger on trades for pitchers such as Verlander, Cole, and Grienke– while giving up a modicum of minor league depth.

    Everything I’d found on Arsenal’s efforts gave me hope they might be able to use their data advantage to systematically stock their academies with first team-capable prospects– in abundance. To a large degree– they have. Question is– does it continue on a generational basis? Or is it based on who was deciphering the data when the likes of Gnabry, Willock, Nelson, ESR and Saka were discovered?

    Likely? The window is closing as far as the advantages Arsenal’s deep-dive data offered. Other club’s systems by now mimicking what’s known of the model. A positive– the current manager. Who might take advantage of aspects his predecessors couldn’t or wouldn’t.

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