In the last week Arsene Wenger has been the focus of much press attention on account of what he has had to say about the standard of refereeing in the Premier League.
In the last decade Untold Arsenal has ploughed a sometimes lonely but determined furrow in highlighting the ineptitude of some of the decision-making made by members of the PGMOL, and in that spirit I thought I’d write in support of pour manager’s position but argue that he should go much further.
In the wake of Mike Dean’s highly dubious (to say the least) decision to award a penalty against Calum Chambers for handball and Anthony Taylor’s (at best) inconsistent performance in the Chelsea home game the press have been quick turn on the Frenchman who has done so much to improve football at the top level in this country.
Jack Pitt-Brooke in the Independent accused him of hypocrisy and of being myopic in not seeing the faults within his own team and using referees’ decisions to deflect criticism. Amy Lawrence in the Grauniad decided to run with the tried and trusted critique of Arsenal’s inability to defend.
Jeremy Wilson in the Torygraph warned that Wenger ‘risks further censure’ for adding yet more criticism to his ‘outburst’ after the West Brom game, in calling Taylor’s decision to award Chelsea a penalty as ‘farcical’.
Wenger went on to say: “Referee decisions influence the game,” he said. “But nobody talks about it. So that means nothing will change.”
I watched the game on New Year’s Eve from the comfort of my sofa and thought a draw was fair even if the penalty was a travesty.
As for the Chelsea game, Tony and I chatted about this and more on the way home from the game on Wednesday. It had been a good game of football, Chelsea under Conte do not ‘park the bus’ and the match was often open and entertaining. Yes we could have defended better and on another night might have been more effective and blessed with better luck.
But both games were ultimately determined not by the quality of Arsenal’s finishing or defending; they were decided by the decisions made by the match officials and Arsene Wenger is perfectly entitled to point this out. We can debate the nuances of whether Moses fouled Maitland-Niles or whether Hazard exaggerated the contact made with him or not, but it changes nothing: Taylor gave a penalty for one of those incidents and not the other. Hazard converted the spot kick and equalized. If a penalty had been given for the foul on AMN and (if Alexis had scored) it might have ended 3-2. On the 31st while WBA may have felt aggrieved to get nothing from a game in which they played well, not penalizing Chambers would have left the score 0-1.
Refs’ decisions change matches every bit as much as managers’ or players’ one‘s do. So why can’t managers talk about it without the risk of being fined or banned? Why can’t we expect the PGMOL officials to be held accountable to public scrutiny as officials are in other countries?
I have a hunch (one that will please the AAA) that M. Wenger will leave in the summer. He is putting in place a new structure of backroom staff at the club to both ensure his legacy and provide stability for the future.
He is 68 and has lots of opportunities ahead of him if he wants to continue managing at the top level. If I was him I’d walk away in June and take up a position with a French club or perhaps even one of the Spanish trio. I’d have a go at winning the Champions League and then, in say three years time, look at taking the French national side to a Word Cup and Euros before retiring with a seat on the Arsenal board.
So if I was him (which I’m not)* then I’d come out all guns blazing right now about referees in England. I’d call out the PGMOL as being either corrupt or incompetent. I’d build on what he’s said before about time wasting, the need for video technology, and recent remarks about how refs are ‘treated leniently’ by comparison to those on the Continent. I would speak from the heart as a fan – not just of Arsenal but of football – and as someone who has seen the parlous state of officialdom at first hand for over 20 years.
Wenger has earned the right to criticize referees and, more than this, he is ideally placed to do so. What will the FA do? Fine him? He’s got loads of money (the AAA are forever telling us this). Ban him? Well honestly do any of you think Wenger does that much from the touchline? He’s no Klopp or Conte after all. He sets up the team and trusts them to work out how to play, he can do all that from the stands.
Will Arsenal censure him if speaks out? Not a chance, for as Tony Adams and the AAA continually insist Arsene is above criticism at Arsenal; the board are cowed and he is in full control.
So come on Arsene – let ‘em have with both barrels. Tell the FA what we are all saying and thinking: i.e. that the state of refereeing in the Premier League is not fit for purpose and until root and branch reform is pursued it they, the FA and PGMOL, that will continue to bring our national game into disrepute, not a bespectacled near septuagenarian Frenchman from Alsace.
*nor is Tony
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