Howdy folks and welcome to another working week. Monday’s are always made a little more easier after The Arsenal get a win and despite the fact that the Scum also beat West Ham to move to within three points of us, I am still in confident enough and happy enough mood. Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking at them and I have concerns because they have two players in Son and Kane who can get them over the line even if we look like a better and more rounded unit right now, but I still have those worries. Conte is a good manager, albeit a frigging annoying and moany one, that’s for sure. Asking West Ham to do us a favour after they did 120 minutes in midweek was probably always a tough ask.

But we have to focus on ourselves and how we can perform and that’s the mantra that Arteta espoused post the Villa game on Saturday. And he’s right to focus on the fact that we haven’t done anything and that what happens in the immediate past (win at Villa) must now be forgotten and moved on. This is the mentality we want to see and he and his team now have two weeks to prepare for another really tough fixture away to Crystal Palace on Monday 4th April; a place in which Everton have just been spanked and Man City only got a draw just last weekend. Where we are now is fantastic but we will not keep that top four spot unless we continue to go away to tough grounds and pick up wins instead of draws and losses. It’s hitting crunch time.

But what is making me happier and more optimistic about this season, is the way we are playing, because on Saturday there felt like a real air of control and dominance about the team. It felt like we had an aura about us like we were one of the bigger clubs fighting for the league. We controlled possession, territory and looked really impressive at times. I’m thinking about that Lacazette blocked shot that he should have slipped Odegaard in for. The build up to that was quick, one touch, interchange of possession that had the feels of a top team. That more than the result or goals themselves are what is sticking in my mind at the moment. This is a team that you can tell is brimming with confidence and in a way this international break is pretty rubbish timing, because the momentum of this team will be stalled somewhat, with so many players going away on international duty.

The upside is that some will get rest time. Ramsdale probably doesn’t need it as much but he’ll be sat at home instead of going with England. Tomiyasu isn’t travelling so the hope is he will be 100% fit and raring to go against Palace when we play them. Others will depart and we just have to hope that there isn’t any bad news with any of them returning in broken pieces back to London Colney in a week or so’s time. There are a few players who you feel probably could do with a rest, like Saka, but I doubt he’ll get it. He’s been subject to a few comments from Steven Gerrard in the aftermath of the game at the weekend, with the Villa manager saying he needs to ‘toughen up‘, talking about his own career and the operations he’s had. It’s interesting comments from Gerrard, especially as three years ago he was complaining about how his Rangers players needed more protection by the referees in incidents involving players. That was what Saka was arguing about; that he was getting kicked and not protected. It doesn’t matter if Gerrard was talking specifically about a head injury – protection is protection and referees should be looking at all parts of the game for ways in which we can cut out some of the silly challenges that could have players injured. If Saka breaks his ankle on Saturday and misses the rest of the season, what do we get other than a raft of “he’s not that type of player” nonsense from the media and Mings’ manager after the game. It doesn’t matter if you’re “that type of player” or not – if you are reckless then you need to be punished. But also the referees need to look at incidences through the lens of both the offender and the one being offended. Too often referees look at the offender and make a decision based on their actions. You then get incidences where the referee is judging the fifth foul on Saka based on who has fouled, so Saka has been kicked about all over the place but because players are taking turns to rotate in their fouling, he isn’t protected. It would not take a lot for a referee to say to the captain “that’s the fourth foul on Saka there, so the next person that does it on him is getting booked, regardless of whether it’s their first foul or not”.

I’m using Saka as an example but I’d want it for all players on all teams. Let’s have this become a more regular occurrence. In fact, if you told me that Xhaka’s yellow on Saturday, where the ref pointed at three separate places as if Xhaka had been multiple fouling (he hadn’t, that was his first offence) was given because the ref was pointing at multiple times on the pitch where the Villa player had been fouled and so was being targeted, I probably would have accepted it. But referees never pick up on this and so we all know for a fact that Xhaka was booked because, essentially, he is Xhaka.

But I am simply pissing in the wind here, because nothing will happen as long as the PGMOL in its current guise is allowed to continue to include not-fit-for-purpose referees who continue to be in charge despite the fact that many of them are now getting to an age where they probably should have retired from the game. Mike Dean is 52 year’s old for Christ’s sake. Pierluigi Collina retired at 45. Clattenburg left the Premier League in his 40s. Howard Webb retired at 43. FIFA has a rule that you have to be younger than 45 to referee, yet why on earth do we allow our refs in the Premier League to carry on going well into their 50s? Jon Moss is 51 and can’t run about the pitch. It’s baffling.

Anyhoo, I’ve ranted on long enough about referees, so I think i’ll leave it there for today. Have yourselves a grand ol’ Monday and I’ll catch you tomorrow with more Arsenal thoughts.