Untold Ref Review: Sunderland 1 – 2 Arsenal

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Today’s referee is Neil Swarbrick – How did he do in his maiden match for Arsenal?

MATCH REVIEW DETAILS – Neil Swarbrick (2012-02-11)
Period 1
Min Type Foul from On C/NC Comment Weight
4 OTHER Campbell Vermaelen C A bit late tackle 1
9 OFFSIDE Van Persie NC Looked level when ball was played 1
12 OFFSIDE Van Persie C Assumed correct 1
14 OFFSIDE Larsson NC Pass to an offside Larsson was blocked ? linesman missed it. Sunderland got a corner 1
15 OTHER Rosicky McClean C Ran into him 1
15 OFFSIDE McClean C 1
17 OTHER Sagna McClean C A bit reckless in the challenge 1
18 OTHER Richardson Sagna C A bit reckless/late 1
18 YELLOW Richardson C cautioned 2
22 OTHER Koscielny Sessegnon NC Kos held his ground, didn’t look a foul ? lino called it 1
29 PENALTY C Turner won ball fairly off RVP ? good no call 3
34 OTHER Gardner Walcott C Trip 1
38 PENALTY C Mertesacker handles unintentionally ? good no call 3
40 OTHER Turner Van Persie C Fouled from behind 1
43 OTHER McClean C High kick 1
43 OTHER Sunderland Arteta NC Pesky fouls, misplaced pass ? not given 1
44 OTHER Campbell Van Persie C Clearly charges into RVP 1
44 YELLOW Campbell C Kicks ball away and compains ? some nerve 2
Period 2
Min Type Foul from On C/NC Comment Weight
47 OTHER Gardner Van Persie C Trip 1
50 OTHER AOC Bardsley C Little tug/trip 1
51 OTHER Arteta Gardner C Trip 1
58 OTHER Sunderland Arteta C Trip ? advantage played 1
61 OFFSIDE Campbell C Tried to deviate shot while in offside position 1
63 OTHER Campbell Szczesny NC Frazier kicked Szczesny’s arm as he tried to gather ball ? Sunderland wrongly awarded corner 1
64 OTHER Van Persie Gardner C Used raised arm to hold off Gardner 1
64 OTHER Campbell Koscielny NC Push on defender ? not given 1
70 GOAL C McClean ? goal okay 3
75 GOAL C Ramsey ? Goal okay 3
76 OTHER Sessegnon Arteta C Pulled down 1
77 OTHER Vermaelen Campbell C Tripped just outside pen area 1
77 YELLOW Rosicky C I think this was for kicking ball away 2
86 OTHER Arteta Colback C Trip 1
90 OTHER Ji NC Handball ? not given and Sunderland get a scoring chance from it 1
91 GOAL C Henry ? goal okay 3
95 OTHER Sessegnon Arteta C Trip 1
95 YELLOW Sessegnon NC Stamped foot over Arteta, grazed his leg ? ref/lino missed it 2

Neil Swarbrick is a relatively new ref for the match, so many of us didn’t really know what to expect from him.  On the day, he made some mistakes but he seemed to get most of the bigger decisions correct.

COMPETENCY SUMMARY – Neil Swarbrick (2012-02-11)
Period 1 Called Total Correct %
OFFSIDE 2 4 50.00
OTHER 8 10 80.00
PENALTY 2 2 100.00
YELLOW 2 2 100.00
TOTAL 14 18 77.78
WEIGHTED 20 24 83.33
Period 2 Called Total Correct %
GOAL 3 3 100.00
OFFSIDE 1 1 100.00
OTHER 9 12 75.00
YELLOW 1 2 50.00
TOTAL 14 18 77.78
WEIGHTED 21 26 80.77
Totals Called Total Correct %
GOAL 3 3 100.00
OFFSIDE 3 5 60.00
OTHER 17 22 77.27
PENALTY 2 2 100.00
YELLOW 3 4 75.00
TOTAL 28 36 77.78
WEIGHTED 41 50 82.00


In the first half, I counted 4 mistakes out of 18, which is respectable, but what is surprising is that 3 of those errors were made by the linesmen including 2 offside decisions.

Robin Van Persie appeared to be level with the last defender when he was flagged for offside in the 9th minute.  It was a tough call to make and in all fairness, Van Persie squandered the chance, shooting somewhat tamely at the keeper.

A more serious offside error occurred on the other side of the pitch in the 14th minute when Sessegnon tried to pass the ball to Larsson who was in an offside position.  The pass was blocked and play should have been stopped for offsides, but play continued and Frazier Campbell was able to get a shot off which was deflected out for a Sunderland corner.

There were a couple of penalty shouts as well in the first half.  In the 29th minute, Robin went down in the area, but replays showed that Turner had won the ball fairly.

A stronger penalty shout came from the Sunderland fans when Per Mertesacker tried to chest down a cross into the penalty area only to have the ball bounce back up hitting his arm.  This appeared to be unintentional and thus the referee was right in not awarding a spot kick.  Moreover there wasn’t a Sunderland player within 10 yards of Mertesacker so Arsenal really didn’t gain an advantage by it either.

In the 2nd half, Craig Gardner nearly opened the scoring with a hard shot that Szczesny could only parry to his side.  When the Arsenal keeper tried to gather the ball, Frazier Campbell kicked his arm and the ball spilled out for a corner kick though Arsenal should have had a free kick for the foul on Szczesny.

Sunderland did open the scoring a little later when Per Mertesacker went down after taking a bad step and James McClean ran onto the ball and shot past Szczesny.  The pitch was in a miserable state and losing the big German and conceding the opener was a tad unfair to Arsenal to say the least.

But Arsenal would strike back with a wonderful strike by substitute, Aaron Ramsey, hitting both posts before finally making its way into the net.

Then right at the end of regulation, Referee Neil Swarbrick missed a handball by Sunderland’s Korean striker, Ji.  Sunderland had a chance to score but could only muster a shot off target.

Sunderland would regret that miss because Arsenal legend and fan favourite, Thierry Henry, would score the winner a minute later from an Andre Arshavin cross.

There was one more incident nearly  5 minutes into injury time when Mikel Arteta was tripped.  While Arteta was on the ground, Sessegnon stepped over him and his boot came down hard grazing Arteta’s leg.  This was perhaps unintentional though it was reckless and deserving of a yellow card.

BIAS SUMMARY – Neil Swarbrick (2012-02-11)
Period 1 Sunderland % Arsenal % Total
Correct For 4 28.57 10 71.43 14
Correct For Weighted 6 30.00 14 70.00 20
Incorrect Against 0 0.00 4 100.00 4
Incorrect Against Weighted 0 0.00 4 100.00 4
Fouls Commited 9 75.00 3 25.00 12
Fouls Penalised 7 77.78 3 100.00 10
Period 2 Sunderland % Arsenal % Total
Correct For 7 50.00 7 50.00 14
Correct For Weighted 10 47.62 11 52.38 21
Incorrect Against 0 0.00 4 100.00 4
Incorrect Against Weighted 0 0.00 5 100.00 5
Fouls Commited 8 61.54 5 38.46 13
Fouls Penalised 5 62.50 5 100.00 10
Totals Sunderland % Arsenal % Total
Correct For 11 39.29 17 60.71 28
Correct For Weighted 16 39.02 25 60.98 41
Incorrect Against 0 0.00 8 100.00 8
Incorrect Against Weighted 0 0.00 9 100.00 9
Fouls Commited 17 68.00 8 32.00 25
Fouls Penalised 12 70.59 8 100.00 20

Swarbrick finished the day with a score of 77.78% and while he did get most of the major decisions correct, there were several wrong decisions which led to scoring chances for Sunderland.  Fortunately for Arsenal, Sunderland were unable to take advantage of them.

15 Replies to “Untold Ref Review: Sunderland 1 – 2 Arsenal”

  1. This was one of the best refereeing performances I have witnessed in the EPL regarding an Arsenal Match. Neil Swarbrick refereed the game and not the occasion, also he did not appear to court the players attention, as other more notable refs will do.

    Yes, Mr Swarbrick made some mistakes during the afternoon but I was left with the definate impression that he gave every decision from an honest perspective, without any percieved bias towards or against either team. All in all I thought it was a decent, genuine display from the official on the day.

    Can we have you every week?

  2. Sunderland fan here in peace…

    Re the handball by Mertesacker can you just clarify what the law of the game is with this because I don’t think “unintentional” is a reason not to give it since we’ve all seen them given when it is crossed from close to the defender and hits an arm where intent is not evident. I’m sure Ji would argue his handball was “unintentional” yet here you mark the referee down for not giving that handball yet surely he could have applied the same line of thought that was apparently correct when applied to Mertesacker. Apologies if I am missing something but it is unclear to me from the description given why one decision (in Arsenal’s favour) was correct and the other (in Sunderland’s favour) was not.

    Also could you clarify the question of advantage you comment on later since Mertesacker, whether imtentionally or not, used his arm to keep the ball closer to him and therefore under his control.

  3. AJW – it is a “deliberate” handball if I remember correctly from my refereeing course. Hence the debate usually focuses around “did it hit a hand before the player could react” (Accidental therefore) and the suchlike.

    So where the reviewer says “unintentional” that is effectively saying un-deliberate.

    As for Ji I haven’t seen the incident, so I can’t offer an opinion on whether it was deliberate or not.

  4. AJW, welcome and I will try to answer your questions.

    First of all we judge each decision (and non decision) from the ref and this is done by refs on so far around +80 games in the EPL (so not just the Arsenal games)

    On the Mertesacker handball: First, yes we have seen them given. And maybe our teams are suffering more from such penalties than some other teams. 😉
    In this case Mertesacker controlled the ball with his chest and then as he ran on he stumbled (not for the last time in this game) over a bump in the pitch and lost his balance. He had chested the ball down and because he lost his balance the ball that was bouncing up touched his arm. If he wouldn’t have stumbled the ball would not have hit his arm. And if it would have hit his arm (without him stumbling I mean) then you could say that it was a deliberate handball.

    The Ji handball was a high ball that was in the air and then was controlled with the arm. And he stuck out his arm to the ball that would have flown past him if he hadn’t stuck out his arm. Ji was not out of balance. In this case the ref couldn’t see it because Ji his body was covering the ball when he played it with his arm. But in our system we don’t care if the ref could or could not see it: it was an intentional handball and so had to be called a foul. I think on that moment the assistant had to raise his flag and help the ref because that is what he is being paid for.

    And just about your remark about crosses when sometimes the ref blows and sometimes not.
    The main thing a ref has to look at is if a player is moving his arms in a certain way or not. If he spreads himself in an attempt to block the path of the ball and by spreading his arms the ball hits the arm it is a foul. If he is just standing there and the ball comes in from close range and hits the arm without him making himself wide then you could say that he didn’t intend to block the cross and then it is not a foul. And then you enter the interpretation of the rules and trying to read the intention of the player and you enter the twilight zone where some refs like to use that zone in order to well you know give a little hand to some team or not…

    We covered 6 Sunderland games so far this season that you can find on this site (without this one) you can always check them and see what you find of the reviews when Arsenal is not involved.

  5. No problem AJW, I always like it when supporters from other teams come over and ask us questions like you did.

    We first started this reviewing last season in an attempt to see if Arsenal was badly treated by the refs. But then the demand got bigger and bigger and since this season we try to cover the top 5-6 teams as much as possible in an attempt to see if the level of the refs in the EPL is high enough compared to what is required and we do it the way that other countries check the level of their refs with using video evidence.

    And in case of doubt we stick with the ruling on the field as the ref called it.

    You cold compare us a bit with the website “debatable decisions” (don’t have the link at the moment) but the big difference is that over here the reviews are done by refs (from different countries) and we look at each game completely whereas the debatable decision website is only looking at the main decisions.

    But as we are refs we know that the smart refs don’t use the big decisions to show any bias.

  6. Good review and a reasonable performance from Swarbrick. Walter, I also really like this format and I am glad we seem to have settled on it.

    I thought the state of the pitch was deplorable – Sunderland are surely risking injury to their own players as well as ours or those of other visitors. Does anyone know why the pitch was so bad?

  7. I agree at this format is very comprehensive and easy on the eyes. I also thought it was good refereeing on Saturday. Swarbrick deserves to get more premiership games on the back of that performance.

  8. I am guessing that the ref check’s the pitch before kick off, but it would of been too big a call for a rookie ref to make regarding abandoning the game. Even though I have seen better quality pitches down at the Hackney Marshes. I ve seen better pitches down at Hackney Marshes than Sunderland. It’s a shame for the FA cup competition next week really as the quality of football played will be affected.

  9. They’ll probably be able to sort it out a bit by the weekend as it’s mild weather – it should drain a bit and take a rollering. We could do with a pitch expert really to explain all this as it is interesting… well – to me at least!

    Oh yes – I love the new format too. 🙂 More to come hopefully!

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