There’s nothing more irritating to a football fan than a perceived lack of transparency and equity in the game. As Arsenal fans we have felt it with situations like the Godfrey stamp on Tomiyasu, or the McArther boot of Saka in the Palace game at The Emirates. I have spoken of that feeling of a lack of equity in matches through shoddy refereeing decisions, as well as in the fixture pile up which saw us have to play the first game of the season, whereas now we have games called off left, right and centre.
So when I read the Xhaka article in the Athletic this morning, I just filed it in my mind as another example of a lack of fairness in football, because when he spoke about how referees have talked about him my thoughts were “that isn’t right at all”.
In the article – a very good read by Amy Lawrence about a few things that are worth checking out – he talks about how a referee once said to one of his teammates that “you know how Xhaka is, he loses his head sometimes” and to hear that from Xhaka about a Premier League referee is just another example of how shoddy and poor our standard is. That referees can go in to these games with such preconceptions only corroborates how we Arsenal fans feel when we do the ‘if that was Xhaka’ comments. Like how Harry Kane gets to try to take somebodies ankle off but VAR cannot take one look at it because he’s the England captain. Do any of us believe that Granit Xhaka in that position doesn’t get sent off. The ref probably doesn’t even go to VAR because he’s already whipped out the red before he’s trotted over to Xhaka.
And this is why we all get so infuriated and why we all bemoan the standard of our referees. They are supposed to be the gatekeepers of law and order in our game and yet literally every week there is another howler that one of them makes. But not only do those mistakes happen, but then you get some of them and their egos, who also bring their preconceptions to football matches. That is just wrong. Referees refereeing matches before a ball is kicked smacks of the exact opposite of what football fans want from the game and yet we still have the same idiots running the ‘professional’ body at the PGMOL, accountable to nobody and with a licence to keep up the bad work they do because there are no real repercussions to some of them, barring a week off if they make a mistake.
Anyway, that’s enough of bemoaning the officials, who are probably just getting the brunt of my frustration because we don’t have any football to speak of today. I know it might benefit us in terms of more time for rest between Norwich away and Man City at home, but I do wish teams were asked to be a little more transparent on who has tested positive for COVID. The reason I say this is because it does feel like for some teams they are using it as an opportunity not to play when they have lengthy injury lists. Apparently Wolves have six players out with COVID from the first team squad, but depending on who those players are should really hold an impact, no? For example, let’s say we had Hein, Okonkwo, Kolasinac, Patino and Oulad M’Hand all out with COVID. But then let’s say that we picked up knocks to Saka, Tierney and Gabriel from the Norwich game. Would it be fair for us to say to the Premier League that we’d like our game against Wolves postponed because of all of the combination of injuries and COVID? Of course technically we have nine players out and it impacts our team, but the reality would be that we are using the system to our advantage.
Apparently Wolves cannot partake in the fixture because they don’t have a squad of 13 players plus a goalkeeper available. Premier League squad sizes are allowed to be 25 players. So if six players have COVID then that means they should have 19 who are available. I had a quick look on Wolves’ website and a site for Premier League injuries and it looks like they have five players out with injury at the moment. If they have a first team squad of 24 (on their website), minus six for COVID and five for injuries, that means they have 13 players available. Unless all of their ‘keepers have got COVID then technically they can have the game postponed and so in this instance you have to go with what their saying because it does look like they are light. But I wonder if there are some teams who are using the lack of transparency on player availability to their advantage?
Southampton played their game against us but they could – if there had been a few COVID cases in their camp instead of an injury or two, have technically asked the question because they suffered the unfortunate situation of having both first team ‘keepers out and then having to sign Caballero on a short term loan. Imagine if they’d have just not done that deal – could they have gone to the Premier League and got a postponement because they don’t have goalkeepers in the team? Just a thought…
I know, I know, I am being a bit conspiracy theorist today, but perhaps it is just because it’s Christmas and I have to wait until New Year’s Day before we play City, so my mind is starting to wander and pluck out wild stories of injustice when they don’t really exist. But when you have elite sport where so much is at stake and so much money is there to be made, it is not as though teams from many different parts of the sporting world haven’t tried to stretch and bend the rules to give them any kind of advantage.
From an Arsenal point of view you hope that Arteta has the team in and is using this time to go extra deep on how we get any points at all at home to City on New Year’s Day. Our advantage could be that City are – at the time of writing – due to be playing Brentford tomorrow evening and that might mean that fatigue is a factor for Pep Guardiola’s side, but given how they can basically field two first teams in all competitions with the size of their squad, I don’t expect it to weaken them too much. Instead I just hope we have our game plan extra thought out; it would be lovely to see our good form continue against the champions.
And with that potential thought fresh in your mind I will leave you be for another day. Have a good one and I’ll catch you all tomorrow.