By Christophe Jost
Looking at the referee numbers for Arsenal, it means if I read them right that in 24 games, Arsenal have had only 6 referees If I deduct the lone Paul Tierney game, in 23 games, they have been only 5 referees officiating. It is the select group within the “select group”.
|Referee||Games||Red Cards||Yellow cards||Yellow card per match||Arsenal games|
This looks to me as if Arsenal and PGMO have made an agreement so Arsenal get the referees of their own choice. We know all about each referee, and so as a result of that Arsenal plan each game according to the referee in charge.
Arsenal’s biggest problem is thus not the biased referee, but the incompetent referee. For incompetent referees are a random element which can disrupt any club’s attempt to rise up the league. So Arsenal have been using their analysis company to try to look at the overall pattern of referee behaviour and use it to their advantage.
Which has led to the current revolutionary approach. The PGMO’s decision to give Arsenal a very restricted range of referees has offered the club more predictability in refereeing allowing Arsenal to see in advance what sort of referee they will get for each game and to adjust their play accordingly.
And so Mr Arteta and his team have developed a set of videos that show exactly how each referee works: how he runs, his speed, what side of the pitch he tends to be on, etc. This is in fact merely an extension of the policy of two seasons ago in which the club changed its approach to tackling and so reduced the number of yellow cards from over 80 to around 40. (See for example the article “Arsenal 42% more likely to get yellow card today than Liverpool”).
Now with this broader approach they can show if each referee has a blind side, how each moves his upper torso to look behind, where he positions himself… In fact every aspect of his personality and physical approach to the game to ensure that the the players know what to expect and are not surprised.
And before each game there is a special ‘black session’ happening in one of the smaller conference rooms of London Colney, which only players, Mr Arteta and the analyst in charge of referee evaluation attend to prepare the next game.
Of course if you ask anyone at Arsenal about the Black Sessions, they will invariably give you a ‘no comment’, or a ‘what’s that ?’ which proves they exist: no one wants to confirm it.
Xhaka has visibly been asked to serve as lightning rod for some of them. Let him have a yellow, and the referee then looks to his employers and the media as if he is going after Arsenal. The referee feels he is following instructions, PGMO agrees, everyone can relax and get on with the game.
This also answers the question why VAR is often not used to look at various strange incidents happening in Arsenal games. The referees know full well what interference they want and will accept and the VAR operative knows what is expected. Again, with such a small pool of referees it is easy to get everyone to play by the script.
As a result, for Arsenal, the number of yellow cards is down and the number of points is up.
And what is particularly clever about this tactic is that the media has dedicated itself to not looking at the action of referees. Just as they refused to comment on the disparity between Leicester tackles and Leicester yellow cards (see “How a club can commit the most fouls, but get the fewest yellow cards”) or the number of penalties Vardy was getting (see “Leicester heading for all-time record number of penalties.”) Only when such data was made public did anything change.
And so it now seems that Arsenal and PGMO have come to an agreement to have the same set of referees assigned Arsenal games.
The referees are happy. There are worse places than the Emirates, and they know the media will much sooner turn on Arsenal if they don’t win than blame the referees, so no matter how odd the refereeing looks, no one will report it. Arsenal make no fuss about having the same referees over and over, but in return can get to know the foibles of each one, and adjust their playing accordingly.
This of course explains why Arsenal have not been vocal about the way they are treated by referees. They know they can’t overthrow PGMO on their own, so better to have the same referees over and over, each acting with his own form of bias for which the club can prepare the players. Exactly as Arsenal did when it cut its level of tackling in half.
Better, even though the media has got wind of what is going on, they are not going to mention it, because they have spent years telling us that English referees are the best in the world. Any attempt by Untold or anyone else to suggest there is something wrong with refereeing results in Untold being told that we are just looking for excuses.
So it is the obvious answer. Note the referees’ foibles and adjust the play accordingly. As long as PGMO don’t change the rules and start giving Arsenal different referees for every game, Arsenal can now safely plan each match based on which referee is handling it.
Hence a rise up the table.
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