Arsenal v Leeds: why did the referee not send Ayling off at once?

By Tony Attwood

As you will have seen on TV or in person if you were there, ex-Arsenal player Luke Ayling committed a monumentally horrific tackle on Martinelli to have himself sent off in yesterday’s game.  If you have not seen the tackle the Independent has an excellent picture of it about half way down its coverage which reveals the total horror of the two-footed assault.

Ayling, himself an ex-Arsenal man who was let go by the club reputedly because of his inability to control his tackling, is shown in the picture undertaking a two-footed tackle along the ground with studs up and going into Martinelli’s ankle.

As you will probably know, the referee Chris Kavanagh, initially gave a yellow card.  There were howls of protest from all corners of the ground except of course the Leeds section.   Then Kavanagh was ordered by VAR to look again, and dutifully sent the ex-Arsenal player off.

But here’s the thing: so utterly obvious was it to most people in the ground that this was an atrocious assault which clearly was a red card, how could it be that the referee didn’t see it as such?   He clearly saw the foul since he gave a yellow card, but not as a red.   That he did not see it as a red, would seem to question the ability of the referee to oversee a game at any level let alone in the Premier League.

And yet the question of how the referee failed to see that assault as a red card offence is simply not asked.  Further, the rest of the media, despite all the main-stream papers having a Reuters account failed to run the picture, (I am applying to Reuters for permission to re-use that picture on Untold, but it does rather depend on the cost).

So why would the media a) not show the picture and b) not question how come the referee failed to see it, and had to be ordered by VAR to look again at what was one of the most appalling tackles you will ever see on a Premier League pitch?

Kavanagh has made 16 appearances in the Premier League this season and has handed out 3.75 yellow cards per game and 0.19 red cards per game, including yesterday’s game.   This makes him the seventh highest deliverer of yellow cards in the PL this season.  

Now that number of reds was only two – and Oliver, Taylor and Moss have all handed out more (Oliver being top of the list with five) but it shows he knows what a red card is and what it is for.

And although of course a player should only be penalised for the foul he commits, not for his reputation, Ayling is known as an incautious defender.  In this season and the two before that, for example, he has picked up 20 yellow cards.  That’s not quite as bad as 2016/17 when he managed to get a yellow every fourth game (10 in 42) but still very high.

So how could the referee just give a yellow and not ask for VAR of his own volition to what was an utterly awful foul.   None of the mainstream newspapers and websites ask that, for it goes against their standard view that you must not criticise the referee. 

Here’s what they say…


“Martinelli roasted Ayling twice more. Eventually, after the Brazilian kept a raking pass in near the byline, Ayling cracked and ploughed through his tormentor, and, although the ball came with him, his force was clearly excessive. Christopher Kavanagh initially showed a yellow card; it did not take the most pedantic of VAR reviews to turn it red, given the offender had leapt in with two feet.”


“Ayling managed to clear a Martin Odegaard centre that had seemed certain to be converted, which was the one thing he did right during a shambolic performance, before receiving his red card.

“The Leeds right back jumped into an attempted tackle on Martinelli near the touchline with both studs showing. He was initially booked by referee Chris Kavanagh, but the decision was checked by Var and a red card was an inevitability.”


“Luke Ayling has been scathingly labelled an ‘idiot’ by Jamie Carragher after his horror tackle during Leeds’ chastening Premier League encounter against Arsenal on Sunday.  The experienced defender clattered into Gabriel Martinelli near the corner flag after just 27 minutes, with his struggling side already trailing by two goals at the Emirates.

“The challenge saw Ayling hurtle in with both feet, leaving the hosts’ players furious.  Surprisingly, he was initially shown just a yellow card, before referee Chris Kavanagh was told by VAR to review the incident at his pitch-side monitor.

“A brief check then saw the booking upgraded to a straight red, leaving the Whites down to 10 men in a game crucial to their hopes of staying in the top-flight.”


“It was all too easy, and Ayling’s mindless challenge with Martinelli trapped in the corner – upgraded to a red card after a VAR check – seemed sure to be the nail in the coffin. This was the former Arsenal academy graduate’s 500th senior appearance and yet that fact only made his naivety more unforgivable.”

So yes, a suggestion that it was slightly odd for the referee not to see the foul as a straight red, in the Mail, but otherwise no criticism of the referee, because, well, we don’t do that in England, do we?

9 Replies to “Arsenal v Leeds: why did the referee not send Ayling off at once?”

  1. The referee and the FA are the highest offender of the English football is like they intentionally do whatever they want to do now if you go further you ask if the FA are not aware of the blunder the referee an even the VAR commit always of course they know every thing now look the match between Arsenal vs Tottenham n Thursday the same FA stick appoint Dien as VAR monitor while they know that each time he officiate Arsenal match especially with Tottenham he always favor Tottenham they went ahead and appoint him which means FA are directly or indirectly fixed matches but let’s see what he Dien will do with VAR on Thursday night FA we are watching your actions in football matters

  2. Chris Kavanagh, the referee in question, carries the FIFA accreditation badge on his shirt. This is a sign that he has been proposed by the PGMO/FA and been accepted by FIFA as being competent and suitable to referee international games. I have long thought that this promotion in status is awarded more for the ability to deliver the results desired by the PGMO than for ant particular excellence on the pitch and my heart always sinks when I see that badge displayed on a referee in an Arsenal game.

  3. As far as I am concerned, we are seeing, again and again, the same cause behind PGMOL and it’s star referees unable to officiate a game correctly :

    They are


    Incompetent Arrogant Morons

  4. Xhaka would have been given a red immediately for a much less blatant foul. On the other hand, if it had been Fernandes a yellow would probably have been the most to expect, with no VAR intervention being sought.

  5. Should we be surprised?

    Ankles and fibulas have been broken in the past, with referees repeatedly letting things slide when it comes to teams facing the Arsenal.

    It’s like what Pep says, people and the media have their favourite teams, so surly this would mean that they also have their least favourite.

    And here I was thinking football was actually a sport…

  6. Seems that Sky and their ref watch queried why it wasn’t a red from the outset and certain people claiming that Martinelli was offside and that had the flag gone up Ayling would not have done it. Dermot Gallagher for once dismissed it and defended the use of VAR and said that it was a red .

  7. Keith Hackett and Mark Halsey have both expressed their surprise at Chris Kavanagh’s initial decision to issue a yellow card to Ayling yesterday.

    Kavanagh seems to be at the centre of so many controversies, whether as referee or VAR operator, that one wonders why PGMOL/Riley like him so much.

  8. I guess that credit should go to the guy on VAR, well done for doing your job, whoever you are?

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