By Tony Attwood
If we take it for a moment that a little of the more extreme behaviour of referees witnessed over recent years has now been removed from Premier League matches then we truly are going to enter a new age of football. Not an age wherein referee bias is removed, nor an age in which the PGMO employs a sensible number of referees, and sets itself up in a way that is NOT reminiscent of the Italian referee association during the era of rampant match fixing, no that would be too much to ask. But rather an age in which referee bias is in decline.
But such a movement causes a problem for the media, which can see the change happening, but can never admit that there was ever a problem in the first place having been in total denial for years. After all they have been telling us that it all evens out in the end, or that (as in the case of the Guardian) we should all stop talking about referees.
Strangely today the Guardian has not taken its own advice but has actually mistaken the call made by a number of its own journalists in the summer for no more talk about referees to be a call for no more talk about Arsenal.
For after a summer in which it seemed that the football section of the paper could talk of little other than the failure of Arsenal to sign a forward, in today’s “10 talking points from the weekend’s action” there is not a single mention of Arsenal.
But they did talk about referees – although in a roundabout way.
In discussing the Leicester defeat to Man U they focussed on the fact that referees are now dealing with “pulling and pushing” in the penalty area and how this “affecting the Foxes’ ability to defend as robustly as last term.”
The paper also notes that “Leicester have now lost as many games this term as in all of last year (three)” although it fails to point out that 66% of those defeats were by the team that now apparently shall not be mentioned.
There is also a quote from Danny Simpson to the effect that “last season I thought we were very good at defending set pieces and we made it tough for the opponents and you have been doing that for all your career and suddenly you have got to change it, but it’s the same for everyone, it’s something we have got to work on and look at.”
Now the fact is that a considerable amount of Leicester’s success last season was achieved with the collusion of the referees, whose attitude of their defenders in the box was a major part of that. The rules, after all, have not changed. It is just that referees have been told that a) they should follow the rule book and b) video technology will be with us soon so it is a good time to start practising getting it right.
The point that the change in the attitude of the referees affects everyone falls a bit flat however when not everyone is suffering from it and letting in three goals from corners in one match. Leicester are struggling because taking the rules to the limit and then way beyond was how they played last year.
The Telegraph suggests that the claim is “fairly outlandish” but offers no other explanation for Leicester’s change of fortune saying, “So there you have it. It’s all the officials’ fault that Leicester aren’t good at football any more.” I don’t think they meant it, but it is quite possibly closer to the truth than they could ever admit.
The Telegraph however, unlike the Guardian, does have a word about Arsenal, and most specifically about Theo Walcott saying, “There are few players in the Premier League who blow as hot and cold as Theo Walcott, but what that does mean is that when he’s good, he’s extremely good. Arsenal’s 3-0 win against Chelsea on Saturday was one such occasion, as the England winger tore Antonio Conte’s defence to shreds and grabbed a deserved goal…. Walcott is not far off the best form of his career, and looks deadly out wide linking up with Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi.”
Arsenal players looking deadly rather than looking dead? Well, well, that is a change.
They also have a nice exposition of the 12 pass move that led up to Theo’s goal:
“Once or twice a season Arsenal completely vindicate themselves, and pull off the sort of intricate goal which is so pleasant to watch it should probably be classed as pornography.
“Saturday was one of those moments, with Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil combining before Alex Iwobi took the initiative to drive forward, play in Hector Bellerin in space on the right who crossed to Walcott for a calm finish. Delicious work.”
Delicious porn eh? Whatever next.
As a result of this sudden rash of compliments we end up finding that the Telegraphic team of the weekend contains Sanchez, Ozil, Bellerin and Koscielny. Four out of eleven, not bad for starters.
But we have been into the season for a few weeks, we’ve had a good old laugh at State Aid United, with its front row seats 13 metres from the touchline in places at the Tax Payers’ Stadium, and with Karren Brady’s, “The move has been a complete success on every level … Be in no doubt, we are part of the most successful stadium migration in history,” and so now it is time to drag out the old “Arsenal are the most expensive club to watch” scenario.
But lo and behold even this story has been moderated. ITV focus on the cost of watching Champions League games from the cheapest seats, and point out that it is pretty cheap (and indeed pretty cold) in Kiev at £4 a ticket. Mind you, they forget to say that those tickets leave you so far away from the pitch that they make the Tax Payers Stadium in the east end look positively close to the action. In case you are interested Juventus have the most expensive tickets in the cheap section.
Talk Sport however will have none of this reformism, telling us that “the Gunners are still short up top with frustration over the club’s refusal to sign a world class centre forward. If they suffer an injury crisis in midfield the decision to send midfielder Jack Wilshere on loan to Bournemouth could evoke fury. With Arsenal it’s all about keeping the team fit.”
It could alternatively be that at present, vying for the centre forward spot we have Alexis, Giroud, Lucas, Walcott and Akpom, plus Welbeck when fit.
It could also be that in midfield we have Ramsey, the Ox, Iwobi, Santi Cazorla, Xhama, Coquelin (when fit), Elneny, and again Walcott.
Since all 25 slots were used up it is not only a question of bringing more in, but shipping some out. Shame that the Sprout doesn’t tell us who.
But still there is one good word to be had, and that comes from, of all people, Jamie Redknapp whose headline is “Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has finally solved this major problem.” This major problem turns out to be the centre back position, where JR is raving over the combination of Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny.
And for once I might just agree with him.
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