THE MICHAEL THOMAS COLUMN
There has been a lot of discussion about whether their is an anti-Arsenal agenda amongst match officials and PGMOL, but I honestly don’t believe there to be a bias towards Arsenal by any organisation or person in particular.
I do believe, however, that we as humans can be subconsciously influenced by others whether we like it or not. If you’re asked what is the nature of Arsenal football club then you would associate it in more recent times as pretty on the eye, but soft centred and can maybe be bullied. A few complaints here and there and then the people in charge, whether they are going in thinking it or not, can be influenced. It happens in many different cases not just in football.
Against Burnley, Arsenal were not awarded a penalty when Erik Pieters clearly handballed in the area. In the first half of the season, Refs awarded penalties for ANY hand contact in the box, intentional or not, so it looks like there has been a hidden rule change from officials. Making a rule change midway through the season is absolutely crazy. Teams have benefited and not benefited from the rules thus far & it is mad to believe that you make it all this way, and then to change it suddenly.
The second incident, when Pieters again deflected a sure goal with his arm/shoulder and the ref immediately gave a red card and a penalty, was correctly overturned, but what is interesting is the manner in which the ref dealt with the second incident. He quickly pointed to the spot and gave a red card. This for me is his conscience kicking in and realisation that he had made a mistake by not giving or even reviewing the first handball, because i believe had he of looked himself then a penalty would have been awarded. The latter decision was a lot harder to see where the ball had hit Pieters, so for him to make that decision so quickly indicates how the ref was thinking in that moment.
Arsene Wenger obviously had problems with officials, but in my playing days I don’t think the refs were biased towards the team. But I do think that each team is known for certain things, and we were a team that definitely stuck up for each other on the pitch and the refs knew they had to control that in some cases.
Having said that there is no obvious Anti-Arsenal bias, I don’t believe VAR affects all teams equally. The only way for this to be a more equal test would be to use the same official with the same mind set. What you see as a foul or clear and obvious mistake may differ to my view and that is the issue.
To be honest we wouldn’t even have been talking about VAR if it hadn’t been for the error by Xhaka to gift Burnley a goal. I’ve seen so many views surrounding the error leading to the equaliser. We should have put that game to bed without the penalty but did not take our chances. The error is going to happen. Arteta asks his team to play in a certain way and that is not going to change. Where I saw obvious areas were:
1 – Leno gives it to Xhaka and I’m not sure what shout he has given Xhaka, but for whatever reason Xhaka doesn’t bounce the pass off first time.
2 – Xhaka takes a look to his left, decides he can’t make the pass, but then takes a touch and decides to do the same pass but now the opposing player has seen where to cut off the space.
3 – Xhaka doesn’t like playing the ball with his right.
This is not the first mistake that has led to a goal from Xhaka, and I think that is down to his own mindset. Players need confidence. He needs to play with a free mind and clear instructions. He looks like a player that sometimes lacks the ability to remain focused for the duration of a game and this can prove very costly.
But I don’t blame Arteta’s insistence on playing out from the back. I think we could always acquire better players as Pep and Klopp have proven with their respective clubs, but when you’re trying to implement a new system there are always going to be a few bumps along the way.
It is not just the Arsenal defence either, the strikers are also goal shy lately. I go back to the confidence mentality. Goals breed confidence for strikers and if you’re not scoring then you lose that killer instinct. I do think that as a good striker however the goals will always come back if you are not scared to keep putting yourself in those goalscoring situations.
Aubameyang was given a nice new bumper contract but I don’t think money has anything to to with his current form. He has suffered from outside issues like many of us and it can be difficult. What we do know is that he is committed and works hard for the team always.
Arsenal only just scraped past my old club Benfica in the last round, but I am of course very hopeful that the Europa League run is a positive one. The result last year against Olympiakos should spur the Gunners on to make sure it doesn’t happen again, but at the same time it is a different game and both teams are at different stages in their process a year on. Hopefully Arsenal will keep our dream of a trophy alive for a few games more.
And then we can concentrate on the great Northern London Derby against Tottenham. I am always going to say an Arsenal Win! Our form normally picks up towards the end of the season, and as long as we take our chances, we will win that game.