Folks on twitter are probably aware of Dale Johnson. He’s a writer for ESPN and does a weekly VAR review column where he talks about the laws of the game and their interpretations. He doesn’t cover every single decision but in general he covers the big ones.
I looked through his catalog for this season and was reminded of several major referee errors that have gone against Arsenal and only one that could even remotely be considered in our favor.
Let’s start with one from this weekend: Souttar on Saka.
We know that Bukayo Saka is targeted for fouls and we tend to believe that he’s treated unfairly. I’ve been tracking the actual fouls called and fouls that should have been called and while I’m not an objective reporter on this topic I try to hold myself to the strictest standards and only count the fouls where the commentators say “that should have been a foul”, “I don’t know how they didn’t call that” or something along those lines. Bukayo wasn’t particularly targeted against Leicester and the match official did call two clear fouls but he swallowed his whistle when Souttar brought Saka down in the box in what was, I thought, an obvious penalty. Dale Johnson agreed, saying that Arsenal should have been awarded a spot kick.
I’m going to skip around a bit because it ties in thematically with the above. The next incident that I’d like to mention is Tyrone Mings throwing Saka to the ground. Mings literally picked Saka up off the ground and threw him aside. In his article on that decision, Johnson says that the VAR official probably believed that Saka exaggerated the contact. I’ve watched the action about 100 times and it’s clear on every single viewing that the reason why Mings was easily able to throw Saka to the ground is because he uses his legs to gain leverage. It’s an obvious penalty and Johnson even admits that had the ref on the field had the guts to call the foul it would have been 100% given.
That’s two very glaring calls that have gone against Saka. Fortunately for the referees, this didn’t effect the outcome of either match.
Another incident which Johnson writes forcefully about is the Maupay foul on Gabriel, which should have been a penalty. I’ll quote Johnson in full here:
“Arsenal can consider themselves unlucky with this decision, because while Maupay is positioning his body to receive the loose ball there is a definite argument that he fouls Gabriel — even though he isn’t aware the Arsenal player is coming in from behind him.
The VAR, John Brooks, acknowledged there was contact, but not enough and considered that Everton had possession. The incident fell below the threshold required for a VAR intervention.
Maupay doesn’t just make a small amount of contact on Gabriel, he essentially places his right foot fully across the body of the Arsenal player, which pushes Gabriel’s left leg into his right. If Coote had awarded this as a penalty, there’s no chance it would have been overturned.
Howard Webb, the Premier League’s new chief refereeing officer, is eager for a VAR only to intervene when it’s absolutely clear there has been an error, hence a high threshold, but this incident must be right on the borderline.”
Dale Johnson says in essence it should have been a penalty and I strongly agree. This time the referee decision DID affect the outcome of a game and Arsenal lost the match.
There’s also the Norgaard offside call which was the straw that broke the camel’s back and got Lee Mason fired. What’s I think most incredible about this story is not only did it cost Arsenal 2 points and get a referee fired but Lee Mason had made SIX VAR errors this season alone and three of them in a seven day period from August 28th to September 4th, culminating in the incorrect decision to chalk off Gabriel Martinelli’s goal for a “foul” on Christian Eriksen in the buildup. Like the incident above, the PGMOL and the League apologized to Arsenal for that poor decision as well. How he remained a fully qualified referee after that week, much less go on to referee another Arsenal match, is the real question.
He also seemed to have a positive bias in favor of Brentford this season:
So there we have four major incidents where Arsenal have been very clearly harmed by poor or biased referee decisions. Dale Johnson also catalogs two offside decisions against Arsenal which he says were so close that they must have been right against the tolerance for awarding offside. Most folks don’t know this but the League has a 5cm rule when it comes to offsides. If the decision is within 5cm they call the play ONSIDE. The rule was changed thus so that we would no longer have the “toenail” offside calls (like Arsenal seemed to get quite often last year).
In practice this 5cm is the thickness of the lines. If the lines touch then it’s onside. If there’s any daylight between them it’s offside. This is complicated by the fact that what we see on our TV (or computer) is not the same hi res image that the VAR officials see. So, what might look like lines touching, actually has a small amount of space that we can’t see. The decision that Johnson uses to describe this is Jesus’ offside goal against AFC Bournemouth. In the end it was an easy win for Arsenal but Jesus’ goal was chalked off for what Johnson called “the closest decision we’ve seen”. In essence it was a mm offside. Which is funny to me because I’ve said all along that if you give 5mm then people will complain about a 6mm offside. Anyway, I’m fine with this decision, 6mm offside is offside.
One decision which rival supporters will complain about is the Bukayo Saka “offside” against Liverpool where the hawk-eye offside cameras didn’t catch Saka and thus the officials were unable to draw the lines. Looking at the tactical camera it looked like there was a possibility he was offside but it’s important to note that that camera is not calibrated for offside decisions and lens effects and time stamps could cause distortion. It was a close match which Arsenal won 3-2 and Liverpool supporters think the goal should have been disallowed. I don’t.
Semi-automated offsides will help clear these offside calls, especially the one which Lee Mason missed and the one which Liverpool supporters gripe about. That will be installed this summer.