Premier League clubs concerned as reform will clearly favour Arsenal.

By Tony Attwood

Several things happened towards the end of last season.  Arsenal’s winning streak was the one most of us noticed, followed by the significant decline in the number of injuries.  Plus, as Blacksheep pointed out to me when we were reviewing last season the other evening,  the length of time those players who were injured were unavailable for selection declined significantly too.

And as always I wanted to know “why?”

Why we improved in the second half of the season was fairly obvious.  We had the players available.

But why did we get fewer injuries, and why were the injured returned to duty more quickly?  Was it all because the training routine was changed?  Were  the medical staff better at getting the injured back?  Or were their fewer injuries on the pitch, and were those we did get, less serious and so repairable more quickly?

It is difficult to say, but I have a suspicion that something else happened as well.  I  believe that the willingness of the refs to allow other teams to attack Arsenal with illegal physical challenges that went unpunished, actually diminished.  As a result, the free-for-all attitude adopted by some defenders that we have seen among many teams playing against Arsenal became a little more restrained in the second half of the season.

This was not revealed directly through a rise in the number of punishments for opposition players or the number of free kicks for Arsenal, although I thought there was a tendency in this direction, but through what I saw as a decline in the number of unpunished assaults.

At the highest level this is obvious – we didn’t see anything of the type that led Mr Wenger famously to describe Abou Diaby as “the victim of an assassin’s tackle that went unpunished.”

But it is at the more subtle level that I felt things were just getting that little bit better.

If that was indeed what we saw in the late winter and spring of 2015 then the question to ask, as always, is why?  Was it by purest chance – the random throw of the dice?  That vision which leads some people to suggest that referees “mistakes” in allowing awful tackles to go unpunished, or only mildly punished, happen to all teams equally.

Or was something else going on?

I am always cautious about suggesting that Untold has an influence on football.  We are getting about 800,000 page views a month according to Google Analytics, which is a lot of reading by a lot of people, and that is very gratifying.  But that doesn’t mean people who can influence the game in any way are a) reading, b) taking any notice and c) actually changing things.

But, against that, very occasionally people with some position in the game do, in private, say “We read Untold – not every article not every day, but you are known…”   And that includes, apparently, some referees talking to each other about the referee preview we give them before each match.

Then there are the times when an Untold article has later popped up with a bit of a re-write, in the national press, or where suddenly a paper runs articles on one of our themes that they have never touched before.  That too looks like the media is taking note, but no proof of course.

So, I’m cautious, on this one, but I am just wondering if the combination of the referee previews before each game by Andrew and the ref reviews after each game by Walter, are not throwing a rather unwelcome spotlight on some refs who are to a small degree, changing their stance.

Now, if those refs were grossly incompetent (something we have never alleged) such spotlighting would not make a blind bit of difference.  You can’t turn an incompetent ref  over night into a quality official.

But supposing, just for the moment, that there was Type III match fixing going on.  That very subtle approach in which a few refs are approached by a few club owners, (as has been commonplace in Italy and elsewhere), with the suggestion that “anything you can do to stop Arsenal winning in any game would not go unnoticed by us.”

Thus a number of kicks go unpunished, a player eases back in the face of such an onslaught, or indeed carries an injury, the number of players either out of the side or operating below par rises and what should have been a set of wins for Arsenal becomes draws and even a defeat.

These bad decisions are not even free kicks let alone penalties awarded (although that can be the case on occasion), it is just low level attrition that goes unpunished from the off, and so grows and grows – and adds significantly to our injury list.

I’ve often made it clear that my interpretation of the current state of refereeing is set up to allow Type III Match Fixing.  The small number of referees PGMO employs means that Arsenal gets the same referees over and over and over again – thus increasing their influence, if they were to be biased.  There should be enough refs so that each referee takes each club only twice in a season.

Second there is no regional balance among referees selected for the Premier League, which makes it even more difficult to restrict the number of times we get a ref.

Third, PGMO, which could be an open organisation, welcoming comments and providing proper analyses to the public, refuses to explain its assertion that the number of mistakes made by each ref in each game is a matter of one or two percent.  If they had nothing to hide, PGMO would hide nothing.

Now I see no movement from PGMO, but I did perceive this change among some referees in the second half of last season.  That doesn’t mean the club’s training hadn’t changed, nor that the club’s medical team were or were not better equipped.  I have no idea if either was true.

But I do think there is a case to be cautiously optimistic about the way referees started to handle Arsenal games in the second half of the season.

Now I know that we often get commentators on Untold making rude comments about the sanity of any writer who suggests that the refereeing of Arsenal is biased – and we then return and say, “we have years and years of detailed analyses of Arsenal games and other games not involving Arsenal, presented and prepared by referees and ex-referees, published on this site and Referee Decisions, which suggest this”.  Show us where you think the analysis is wrong.

And anyway I am not presenting a statistical analysis here to prove my point.  I am talking about my overall impression.

But if it is true, and if the years of Type III match fixing are coming to an end then it will indeed be worrying some other clubs that have for years benefitted by the insidious system.   As I have said before last season all we needed was two defeats to have been victories, and one draw to have been a victory, and we would have won the league.

That is not to suggest that those matches were deliberately fixed, although there was some very, very strange goings on in one of them which even the press were bemused about.  But because they saw that match in isolation they drew no conclusions.  But it is to suggest that without such happenings, whatever their cause, Arsenal would be in a much, much better position.

I think there was a change in refereeing attitudes towards us in the second half of last season, and if that is so, and if it continues, we could easily have picked up the points that we needed to win the league.  I suspect one or two clubs are getting rather worried, if they’ve spotted that trend too.

Anniversary of the day:

  • 2 July 1977: Bob Wilson, the goalkeeping hero of the first Double season, re-signed for Arsenal as emergency cover, but didn’t give up his TV work.

The books

Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years

Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910

The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal

29 Replies to “Premier League clubs concerned as reform will clearly favour Arsenal.”

  1. In the Cup Final four Villa players were yellowed in the first half.

    When was the last time this happened to our opposition? It meant they had to be a touch careful in the second half.

    The normal patten is for our players to be yellowed in the first half and the opposition to be yellowed late in the second half.

    In the second half the unbooked fouls against us still came in but nothing like we normally see.

  2. You know how the top dogs often seem to have an advantage with the refs. My feeling during the spring was that we were becoming one of the top dogs, but you just might have a point!

  3. Here’s a stat for you make of it what you want

    In the first league game against all teams in the Pl league last season the opposition playing against Arsenal received 1 red & 56 yellows.
    In the second games the numbers were 1 red & 28 yellowss

  4. There was an article on the AFC website a while back about how tackling is changing. The emphasis is moving away from the (relatively) uncontrolled last ditch sliding tackle being used all over the pitch (with as much bodily contact as the tackler can get away with) towards ‘nicking the ball away’ without actually making any body contact at all. Tackling with ‘the wrong foot’ i.e. the one closest to your opponent has been pretty much outlawed for the simple reason that it’s almost impossible to do without making contact with the opponent before the ball. Alex Song was a regular culprit when he played for us.
    Frances Coquelin, who eventually replaced Song, is especially good at this ‘interception’ style of tackle and Arsenal are, as a team, quite possibly the best at it in the league.
    It means we give away fewer fouls than our opponents in most matches and dramatically reduce the number of occasions that we are exposed the high ball into the box from the set piece.
    If we are seen to be successful in doing this others will (and perhaps already are) copy us.
    A reduction in strong physical contact reduces injuries to both teams and, of course, reduces retaliatory fouls when one team feels hard done by.
    The public admission by both of the Neville brothers that Man Utd. used to try to kick Arsenal out of games and the absence of SAF to publicly deny it may well have got through to refs who also may have seen how much easier womens football is to referee thanks to a different attitude by players.
    Clubs with a previous reputation for thuggery have calmed down somewhat and managers like Allardyce and Pulis seem to have been forced into going in a different direct (even out of clubs) – by the new breed of club owners.
    Injuries cost money – and will therefore be reduced because all clubs want to reduce costs not least because of FFP.

  5. “I think there was a change in refereeing attitudes towards us in the second half of last season”

    Yes i really agree. It started tenuously then picked up speed and i was amazed that Arsenal got a penalty some time later. Wow, i thought. For some reason i was always waiting for the hammer to drop. I thought they were luring us into a sense of false security, then BAM, drop the hammer on us.
    But it seems they “like” us now. We can only wonder for how long they are are going to do so, and be always on our guard

    Let’s hope they stay “nice” and Arsenal are treated the same as all the other clubs.

    All UNTOLD and others can do is to keep throwing those “stones” into the water, knowing they will always cause a ripple. 🙂

  6. What is sure is that our eyes are not as shut as once used to be…we now see, hear and speak…Riley and crew are well aware of this because we are now becoming irritatingly interesting even to the media…who had to – I say HAD to pick up several issues the Riley brigade during ;art seasons PGMOb performances!!

    We hope this continues!!!

    We are on to you!!

    Stop kicking our players, start protecting our players (you know who you are respectively)…leave the rest to us and have a nice summer!! 🙂

  7. Interesting. A couple refs who always did us seemed to stop. The last game I saw us really done was Mr Atkinson at Spurs , think that was last feb?
    A few things have happened in refereeing. Performances got so bad, the media noticed and commented, Riley became an increasingly discredited figure. He bought in Howard Webb, and Keren Barratt,,the man who selected refs for games mysteriously and suddenly left his post. FIF has stated categorically he was sacked,. If so, was this a sacrifice to protect Riley? But since this, think our refereeing has improved. Apparently Webb is much more hands on and supportive of the refs than Manc Riley, maybe some of them just wanted to to the best they can, but needed a little TLC.
    Which moves onto the current status… the Feds indicting top people at FIFA . Don’t imagine other forms of corruption are not on the radar of the authorities, the top levels of football are a crumbling edifice, who knows who else might be bought down as people scramble to name names to save themselves.
    As for injuries, I am sure there has been a Shad effect. When he arrived, the injuries piled up, but then, they stopped….or at least in relative terms. Maybe he changed things, which made things worse before they got better? Our medic facilities are also being improved, as stated by the club. Also think Coqs presence may have helped on the injury front, and who knows, maybe the club had words, as myself and others on here were willing them to do so…but the refs….intriguing, hope our seemingly better treatment continues.

  8. Personally, I have never understood why the first egregious foul of a game is greeted by a referee giving the player a talking to. The first bad foul should result in a card – yellow or red.

  9. I think it’s pretty clear by now that last season there was a change of attitude by most referees towards Arsenal. I wouldn’t say we were treated more fairly, but rather with less bias against us.
    The outright GBH executed by many was now being picked up by match officials.
    Well-known thugs like the Neville Brothers were no longer around.
    Much has been said about the change in the medical regime which has speeded up the recovery of players. This may be so but it doesn’t excuse the original foul on the field of play.
    One improvement I would like to see is the removal of this “touchy feely” attitude between players and officials PLUS no 90 minutes of whining and talking to the referee a la Rooney. OK, the team’s captain can approach the official for a brief explanation of a decision.
    What Rooney cannot get through his head is that Ferguson and his referee chums are no longer around. He and many of his colleagues are now aging and OT is no longer the fortress of “anything goes”.
    When he and Young perform their diving acts now, they are going to get booked and rightly so.
    A bit more honesty and integrity is creeping on the football field by officialdom at long last and should be welcomed. 😉

  10. Think you,are right Nicky, refs are showing a bit more courage with Utd compared to,the Fergie days, none more so than Michael Oliver when he reffed us against Utd at OT in the FA Cup…..or,at least his second half performance anyway.

  11. I think taking a broader insight as to why what is mostly seen as bad refereeing is happening more and more today, will make the fans see the light and not to be accusing the Ref of intentionally acting to block the winning chance of a particular team on the field of play e.g. the Arsenal team. I have been observing the performances of referees as they officiated in various categories of games. I have realised the modern game of today has become too fast for the match officials to see every infringements committed by the players. As even the players themselves employed every tricks, clean or dirty, duly or unduly to gain an advantage over their opponents. Refs incompetence apart, referees need an extention of the goal-line technology to cover some aspects of the game such as off-side, fouls, a disputed – penalty, corner kicks and throwing-ins to help them minimized error of Judgements in their officiating job. For instance, the 2 penalties the Ref awarded to Japan and England at the WWC yesternight were as a result of error of judgements by the Ref. The foul that made the Ref to award a Pen to Japan was committed outside the box. And the English player faked being tackled and she was given a Pen. Even if a Ref has the intention to be unfair, the employment of electronics technology to cover far and wide into the game, will handicap the Ref to carry out any match Irregularities. Let’s endeavour not be antagonizing the Refs but objectively criticize them when necessary. I think Arsenal players have employed personal defending into their games as they seemingly play to avoid picking up injuries last season. Agree. The Untold match reviews might have made some Refs woke up from their incompetence to be efficient in their officiating in Arsenal games last season.

  12. Could it be that the absence of the absolute dictator has lessened the pressure on the refs ? I do really think so . No more hairdryer treatment = less stress = better performance .
    More praise and appreciation , with less criticism , finger pointing and fault finding = better standards .
    But I do agree with the regulars that there has been a subtle , but noticeable change in the many facets in the avoidance of injuries ,in direct confrontations and in the recovery periods.

  13. Hi Tony

    Is this maybe because That Chelsea were in a strong Position to Win the Leauge and were i think 7 or 9 Points ahead and Refs felt they could just try and be honest when they knew chances of chelsea blowing away the chance to win a title was very very less

  14. GunnerForever, and thus trying to lift the entertainment factor a bit and give the chasers a fair deal of the decisions in the hope that the league wasn’t decided with 10 matches to go or so?

  15. Ancient gooner I think you have a point here. You say we are becoming a ‘top dog’. My take on the issue is that arsenal as a global brand now has bought some excellent and expensive players. People want to watch these players all around the world. There may be something in the back of the refs minds since the brutal Chelski attack on alexis and ozil and also the reaction of alexis in punching ivanovic that is two fold 1) arsenal players will not be bullied and will now dish out as well as take illegal challenges. 2) the referee does not want to be responsible for the injury of a 35 or 40 million pound player that audiences around the world tune in to watch, and would lead to more outrage on a national and international level than a diaby 3m or a Ramsey 5m getting their leg broken – although this absolutely wrong I do believe that most arsenal players benefit from this (apart from jack – who can be assaulted as many times as he has hot dinners)

  16. A subtle change in refereeing appears to have happened following the publicity when ex refs such as Halsey and Hackett broke ranks and went public with their criticisms . Riley must have realised that he was likely to find scrutiny of his organisation increasing and has probably told his minions to keep their heads down for a bit and try to stay out of the spotlights until something else like a post cup final song comes along to grab the moral indignation headlines. The acid test will be the first 6 games of the new season only then will we be able to begin to draw any conclusions.

  17. The thing with Jack Wilshire is that everyone “knows” he has glass ankles. That means you can’t be blamed if you break them in a tackle. If you can’t be blamed, why hold back?

    I hope that something else is filtering through too; the attitude of Phil Neville towards footballing skill explained why England get to major tournaments and get shown up. The “get stuck in” culture isn’t producing skilful players, and worse, is discouraging English players from developing or showing skill.

    “If he did that to me in training , I’d take him out”


  18. Whether or not any actual corruption has ever taken place, I don’t know. If not, it all comes down to something dark, and wrong, in our football culture being taken to extreme limits against us. However, even in that scenario, referees played the crucial role in allowing it to happen. So the questions still remain about why.

    The dark thing I refer to is the simple belief that very aggressive play- fair and foul- is a legitimate way to try gain an advantage in football and one that becomes vital, an absolute necessity, even a duty, against teams with more skill and quality with the ball than you. Something like that is surely common to all football cultures, and up to a certain point is defensible and ok- it’s where the lines are drawn that is the problem.

    I found it painful to hear Danny Higgingbotham refer to Stoke Arsenal games a few days ago. I don’t remember him as one of their dirtier players, but that’s not the point. The point was his total conviction in the correctness of the Stoke approach. Framed as a simple matter of underdogs having to play as they do- there were the normal euphemisms (hard work, get about them, different styles and no one style is right)- but really the whole thing comes down to ultra aggressive play with plenty of fouling.

    What disturbed me was that Higginbotham could mention those matches and different ‘styles’ without the merest hint of disquiet or regret in his voice or words. A brilliant career was nearly wrecked because of that approach, and it’s incomprehensible to me that that wouldn’t make a big impression on any decent person (that’s perhaps the disturbing thing: Higgingbotham comes across as an ok person).

    It seems inexplicable to me that the Ramsay incident wouldn’t frame the thinking of anyone- Stoke players and fans included- when thinking about how those encounters went. But, no, there was simple pride in Higginbotham’s voice and you’d think he was discussing something noble and correct, or completely neutral like the subject of long throws.

    That’s the optimally disturbing possibility ; that in his and the other players minds they didn’ t do anything remotely wrong and so what happened to Ramsay was merely a freak event. Conscience 100% clear. Believe that and there is absolutely no problem- morally or otherwise- in continuing with the exact same behaviour.

    The lines are drawn by basic morality and decency – i don’t want to break anyone’s leg; what pride is there, anyway, in cheating to victory? etc- and by the performance of the referee whose job is to patrol those limits, try to protect players and, simply, try to deliver justice.

    In effect, a ref can never do a thing at any moment to protect a player from a terrible foul- bam, it happens in an instant, someone got hurt- but he can do everything to reduce the probability of such a foul occurring. He does this by dealing properly with fouls of various severity. If he’s a bit lenient, it increases the probability of more dangerous fouls; if he’s extremely lenient, it greatly increases the likelihood of such fouls.

    So, I remain clueless about whether any actual corruption took place, but I know that refs enabled teams to gain advantages against us through the use of foul play for a very long period.

    I can’t be too optimistic about the future because we’re still talking about the same culture, same morality, same belief systems and mentalities, same pool of players and teams against us, same media; and, crucially, the same pool of referees and administrators

  19. Rich you are correct in saying that it’s the refs responsibility . All too often the injury occurs immediately after allowing a lesser foul to go unpunished. THis of course follows the entertainment line of playing on , keeping the play moving , not interrupting the flow of the game to maintain the television spectacle. The answer is simple :- Penalise the first foul and the second more violent one won’t happen.

  20. An interesting article and some astute comments.

    I am not yet convinced that the refs are a redeemed species – they allowed themselves to be influenced by the Red Nosed One, probably by the Odious One and also by the traits of Riley. Should other unsavory influences come to the fore will they knuckle under again? I’m 50:50 on that one!

  21. If there’s a change in attitude from some of the refs towards Arsenal , it probably has more to do with Wenger than anything else.

    Arsene Wenger has quietly become referees’ best friend , and he is the least likely PL manager to blame a referee for his team losing a game now.
    His public condemnation of players surrounding refs to put extra pressure on them hasn’t gone unnoticed either.

    I was very critical of Wenger for not taking a stronger stance against some of the fouls Sanchez was subjected to , particularly by Chelsea’s Gary Cahill and Stoke’s Charlie Adam, but it appears that Wenger’s approach of not criticizing referees for their handling of those incidents and many others might actually be working.

  22. No other club has had as many players hospitalised or carried off with broken legs. That is a fact.

    It’s the British disease. I am not sure the refs are behaving any differently then the culture in which they have bought up in. That’s the problem, the British approach to football. Simple.

    What is also known is that every one of our players was done by a British player. This is not a coincidence. We heard the Nevilles admit they were sent out by Fergie to kick Arsenal. Anyone who watched that Riley performance in the game at Old Trafford that ended the unbeaten run must have wondered what was going on. Poor Reyes.

    This was obvious. Just watch the game now and see what was going on.

    Listen to pundits now on TV or the Radio. They all talk up physical tackling and getting stuck in, happily admitting this is the way to play Arsenal. The fact it’s cheating is never mentioned. Why not? Because this is Britain, we have this thug mentality towards football. We laud tough tacklers and call skilful players soft. That’s why the National team is so poor.

    Diaby was a victim of Dan Smith. Eduardo was a victim of Martyn Taylor. Ramsey was a victim of Ryan Shawcross. To a lesser degree, luckily, Wilshere was a victim last season of Paddy McNair.

    Yes the refs are culpable but it is the ‘British’ mentality that is the problem. With foreign referees it wouldn’t be allowed. It’s a mentality issue. In many ways we are still dinosaurs.

  23. Tom, agree, I was also critical or the club not and manager speaking out on fouls on Sanchez and countless others, can think of other highly successful managers who would have plenty to say on such issues, possibly banning refs from their games. Does either silence or exposure on such things work? I know you have mentioned Chelsea’s policy of fouls in the first few minutes when they believe the ref will do nothing, Ramos and casillas iunder the guise of a writer say Jose had a similar policy at real. Gamble on what the ref wouldn’t dare.
    But whatever the reason, things do seem to have changed a bit with Arsenal……we shall see if it remains so if we become a genuine threat.

  24. proudkev
    July 3, 2015 at 5:34 pm It is not just a mentality that permits this abuse of sporting freedom, it is a racist attitude. The use of PGMO to protect vile individuals from the Law of the Land under the sporting umbrella is not far off the SS targeting a section of society.

    I still feel that the police have a role to play where an official does not book an obvious GBH on the football field. Perhaps not immediate but certainly at the next stoppage, an arrest from the field of play. It may seem ‘pie in the sky’ but it is what Law is for. Why the club has not brought this into the public eye is a matter of insurance against being picked on by the corrupt authorities (FA). There are historical incidents that bear witness to this.

  25. Mandy Dodd

    While it doesn’t answer the questions about why the club have never ‘campaigned’, and whether it was the right choice not to, against the fouls/ injuries, reading the autobiographies of Walcott and Suarez in recent weeks has provided very strong hints about those answers.

    In Suarez’s book, he mentions on many separate occasions how dangerous some of the play is here and his belief that a dangerous tackle/foul is many times worse than a dive, and that he is mystified that it is not rested accordingly :

    ‘It was striking to me that they talked so much more about diving than about some of the fouls. I’ve seen fouls in Premier league matches that are incredible; players getting kicked hard and deliberately. I’ve seen players get injured. I’ve seen them forced out of action for six months or more. Why doesn’t that get criticised?’

    then this from Walcott’s book :

    (On Ramsay’s injury) ‘People talked afterwards about how some clubs target Arsenal because they think that kicking us will jolt us out of our stride. It’s the old ‘they don’t like it up ’em’ kind of argument. As far as I’m concerned, it’s beyond doubt. People do try and kick us. The injuries we get aren’t a coincidence. They’re a direct product of the attitude some teams take into matches against us’

    Now the intriguing bit, why have the media never made anything of these comments? We know it’s a near certainty each outlet has someone, probably many, who read any big football books. Such books provide nice and cheap material which they always have a ravenous hunger for. In both cases, but especially Theo’s, it is surely inexplicable that they didn’t see those comments (and the many more similar ones) as an excellent thing to pick up on and use as the basis of debate.

    But I would have no idea either had said anything if I hadn’t read the books.

    This doesn’t tell us what would happen if Wenger and co had railed or flat out campaigned, but it firmly indicates how much appetite there is for criticising these elements – foul play, attitudes to fouls, refereeing of fouls, dangerous play, etc- of football here, which itself indicates how well it is likely to go for us should we ever directly take on the fouling and refereeing culture in general and specifically against us.

    The media don’t want to know. They read Suarez and Walcott’s books and deliberately chose to ignore the important things they had to say about an important topic.

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