How are Arsenal meant to succeed when referees are conspiring against them?

Date published: Wednesday 17th August 2022 9:50 - Editor F365

Arsenal players surround referee Darren England.

The weekend controversy between Arsenal and Chelsea strengthens one Mailboxer’s belief that there’s a refereeing conspiracy against Arsenal. Also: Musk’s Man Utd; more on Souness; and latching on to the Lionesses.

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Poor ole Man United, just can’t catch a break at the moment. If it’s not our owners being our owners, or our players suffering collective amnesia over how to kick a ball, it’s what is laughably called our *check notes* “transfer plans”.

Still, it’s all going to be fine because Knighton/Radcliffe will buy the club and . . . wait, what is this I hear a little birdie tweet? Elon Musk will buy Manchester United.

As we all know Elon is famous for carrying through on tweeted promises, just ask, um, Twitter. So this is basically a done deal. We also know a few other things. Firstly, it ain’t going to happen overnight, so Mr Ten Hag still has to work his magic on these beans before he can trade up to a cash cow. Secondly, Elon Musk. So expect the whole first team to be fired if they put in a ropey performance and endless random blarping from a self-proclaimed internet expert with even less knowledge than the usual self-proclaimed internet experts but just happens to own the club (/me checks reflection in the mirror, still looking awesome!). Fortunately whether it goes ahead or not this farrago is bound to have a soothing and edifying effect upon the team and fans of all stripes.

Still, at least as far as I know we’d have an owner who hasn’t committed wide scale human rights abuses. Unless you count his employees.

What a time to be alive, eh?
Collin (nothing could convince me to buy a Tesla) Hack


Musk clarifies his comments about buying Man Utd from the Glazer family


Ref conspiracies
Earlier on in the year, between New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day(ish), Arsenal were on the receiving end of some incredibly bizarre, harsh, strict and outright bewildering referee calls. It wasn’t just one call, or one particularly bad game, or just one ref. It was a string of matches where Arsenal suffered outrageously. Arsenal fans were absolutely howling conspiracy.

Naturally, the reaction of the opposition fans was to laugh. Look at those precious Arsenal fans thinking they are being picked on by refs, they would chortle. The media, at first, published a load of articles laughing at the precious Arsenal snowflakes and their disciplinary record. TV and radio would make an example of Granit Xhaka and his endless yellow cards, and reds too.

However once the laughter died down, the story never really went away. Arsenal’s incredibly unfortunate run of refereeing decisions continued, and a very angry Mikel Arteta announced he had a meeting arranged with the Powers in Referee Towers. He wanted to speak to them.

Not long after that, the same fans who laughed at Arsenal’s bad luck had to concede, “yeah they do seem to be having a particularly shocking run of decisions”. The Athletic published an article about Arsenal’s string of bad decisions, and decided to do it in a jokey, light-hearted tone. It completely backfired. The article tried to make light of, and gloss over, how Arsenal fans love to cry conspiracy, only to be met by a torrent of annoyed, frustrated and angry comments in their own article comments section. Fans of all clubs were kind of angry that, by now, it was kind of obvious that Arsenal were getting some rotten and cruel decisions against them, and a light-hearted wishwash behind a paywall site was completely unacceptable.

The Guardian, another fine site with a particularly good comments section, started shutting down the comments sections when the discussion kept on turning back to the refereeing decisions, by now not just against Arsenal, but against a lot of clubs. Their own clubs.

When Cucarella has his hair pulled in the box, and the referee presumably misses it, then that is what VAR is for. That is the literal description of what it’s for, and the very, singular reason for why it was introduced. For stuff like this. When you have what seems like 95% of the football fans, be they angry, bemused or amused, but still questioning just how the flip-flap was such an obvious decision not given for Cucarella… it can only lead to conspiracy.

Why wasn’t it given?

No one’s ever answered that question, have they?

And straight after the hair pull, of course, the goal happened. My understanding of VAR is that, especially in the event of a goal, video referees will look for any reason to not award that goal.

But yet the goal stood and Tottenham, who were pre-match favourites to win that game, rescued a point.

Last season, Arsenal were not predicted to finish in the top four by ANYONE, no pundit, no expert, and certainly no betting companies. They were 6th at best. When they found themselves in fourth, then in third(!) that’s when the string of incredibly harsh refereeing decisions began.
Dale May, Swindon Wengerite


Official standards
There’s no need to make the refereeing crisis more complicated than it needs to be. It’s not society’s fault, it’s a simple matter of standards and lack of accountability. Watching a video of a player grabbing another player by his wonderful hair and throwing him to the ground should lead to an easy decision. That is violent conduct. To say that there’s no specific rule against hair pulling is a cop out.

So –

1. A player can pull another player to the ground by the hair.
2. An official can watch a video of it happening and decide that because there’s no specific law about hair pulling it’s not violent conduct.
3. He’s not allowed to tell the referee there was a foul FOR SOME REASON.
4. The officials enter the incident in their post match reports to put on record that they watched someone get pulled to the ground by their hair and didn’t think it worthy of a foul.
5. Romero faces no retrospective action because the referees record it in their post match reports.

We end up in a situation where everyone knows that there was violent conduct, nothing can be done about it because the referees must be allowed to make mistakes but also insisting that technically there was no mistake To butcher the narcissist’s prayer “that wasn’t my fault but if it was there was no error”.

It’s a blueprint for how not to handle mistakes, like you couldn’t make a worse process if you really tried. It’s like leaving your child behind at the pub and then not going back to pick them up because your wife can’t tell you you’re missing a child and we’re not about re-taking our children home from pubs. There’s too much hiding behind “respect” when there are things that have to be fixed regardless. Referees should obviously be respected, they shouldn’t have to face threats and hide in their houses but we can’t let all that detract from the fact that there are serious issues with the standard of officiating and the processes that allow mistakes to go uncorrected. They are two separate issues and one should be fixed regardless of the other so stop throwing every isolated problem in with society’s wider woes or nothing will get fixed.

For those who enjoy the lenient reffing may I remind you how we were enjoying the lenient reffing last season before it became obvious that our officials are only capable of understanding that either everything’s a foul or nothing’s a foul. There is no in between for them so expect a return to everything being a foul soon after someone cracks someone over the back with a chair and doesn’t concede a free kick because nobody has itemised every single violent thing a human being can do.
SC, Belfast (winds me right up it does)


Souey and context
Not entirely football related but I wanted to flag something that Robin CPFC built his missive about, as it’s a trend increasingly common in crowd sourced media, like the mailbox, but not just in football and I worry about it. Wanted to prompt a conversation.

Robins note: “Let’s start with what Graeme Souness actually said”
His immediate next sentence: “What he was saying is that ‘real’ football is now back, after that pesky interlude over the summer when we had to put up with the women playing their ‘inferior product'”

That is barely plausible given the context of where he was sat and what he was watching; It is difficult argument to follow the logical reasoning for when viewed alongside the entirety of what he said; importantly it runs counter to what has become Souness’ somewhat repeat-ad-nausium shtick for nigh on 20 years on Sky (some people like it; some not) that ‘tough’ players need stop deferring to the ref and just play on; Finally, Robin’s argument of Souness not in fact making a comment referring to the game being allowed to flow more (which is what he actually did say), with less stoppages, doesn’t tally with the fact other commentators and indeed mailbox posters have made the exact same point – but with better language.

Robin’s fair, in that if we are going to move forward we at the very least need to have commentators that are at demonstrably trying to articulate their thoughts in a constructive way. I do not think Graeme Souness is a racist, nor do i think he is sexist. However what is entirely inarguable is that despite having significant screen time he has not been able to articulate his arguments across the last 5 years without people leveraging that charge against him. The reply to that is to try making your point in a different way; not to belligerently soldier on communicating in the same style and vocabulary.

So Robin is right.

But i also have significant problems with his just randomly rephrasing a quote into something genuinely outrageous. I feel it actually runs counter to what he’s hoping to achieve. Perception is reality. Imagine if you a female sports fan or a fan of female sports, already feeling somewhat bombarded with diminishing comments about either last summer or the game in general, well you then read that a 60 year old presenter of Sky’s flagship show was directly disparaging of it. That just reinforces a message you are already getting day in, day out, that no one cares. It makes your experience worse. On the other side, imagine you are a cave dwelling trogolodyte, and genuinely do hold those views about last summer. Well someone on the internet putting Graeme Souness in your camp could be viewed by them as validating those views; reinforcing them?

When Souness did no such thing. It’s far more prevalent now as society moves to fan-created media, and people get their news from podcasters and other sources. content being delivered as “‘x’ did this… because ‘y’, or ‘this happened and what the person was doing was definitely this’ – Rather than a dispassionate Ross Atkins style, ‘here is the thing that happened, the view of either side, and where the evidence suggests the truth lies between them, what’s happening next is…’

I genuinely think it’s going to bugger up a generation. News has been radicalised, and we’re all mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore. But I can’t influence the entirety of society, so am starting with the Mailbox.

It’s inarguable that Souness’ default language defers to a gender bias, and that reinforces a view that women either don’t already play football, or that it’s a ‘female version of the mens game’; Football is a man’s game = any variant of that is not therefore football. I do not believe that is the point Souness was making but his cack-handed language means he is entirely fairly liable to that charge. He could also have easily circumvented this by correcting it to ‘game for adults, not whiny children’ when the Sky presenter did almost immediately challenge him. But he didn’t take the opportunity to learn. Frustrating. But he made no point about women’s football in general; he certainly made no reference to last summer. He did not denigrate the Euro’s win in any capacity. Putting his names to that point is not helpful.

Can we not just try and, if using quotes, use the actual bloody quotes. This rampant twisting of the truth doesn’t ever lead to constructive change, just more people getting angrier and angrier. Came to the mailbox for some light relief FFS I get frustrated when it’s managers getting wilfully misquoted, like if they talk about their team not being good enough for 5 minutes but the headline is ‘Klopp whinges about dry grass’ – That’s disingenuous and genuinely quite boring. But it’s not problematic. But doing the same thing when it’s about more important stuff, can’t be right can it?
Tom G


USA > England?
In the immediate aftermath of the Lionnesses winning Euro 2022, there was a lot of talk about how “football came home” and how “XX years of hurt” are finally over. This was understandable given the emotions and pride about what had happened, but now that we have had some time to settle down, I really don’t understand this fixation on conflating men’s football and women’s football (see Exiled Gooner’s mail from yesterday afternoon, but they are far from alone). This also includes when people try to claim that Peter Shilton doesn’t hold the record for England appearances because of Fara Williams, or claiming Ellen White is closing in on Wayne Rooney’s goalscoring record.

From my perspective they are two different teams in two different competitions. But that’s just my opinion and really, anybody who wants to count men and women’s football in the same buckets are at liberty do so. I would just like to remind them that if that is the approach being taken, there is no choice but to admit that England is a country with less football pedigree than USA and Norway (amongst others). Again, this is not taking away anything from women’s football or the Lionnesses, I greatly value women’s football and am very pleased it is finally catching on in England (now that you lot have a successful team by coincidence), but I’ll never understand grouping these teams together for records/statistics purposes.

Related tangent (as it relates to Sounness/yesterday’s mailbox): on the topic of “manning up” / “men’s game”, I appreciate that the vast majority of people who use terminology like this are sexists and/or misogynsts, but I don’t think I’m alone in sometimes using these/similar expressions to contrast acting like an adult vs. acting like a child, rather than male vs female behavior. This is absolutely not a valid excuse to keep using these expressions though. We should really use clearer language (ie. “adult up / adult’s game / etc”), if that is indeed what we are trying to say. And doubling-down on your comments like Sounness, rather than clarifying yourself if you’ve badly explained yourself, is always a bad idea (albeit very on-trend these days…)
Oliver Dziggel, Geneva Switzerland


…In reply to Exiled Gooner, I just wanted to pick up on the thought about why the women’s team’s success does / doesn’t end the years of wait and hurt. I’m not trying to support the views or opinions of Martin (YNWA) as I don’t care what they are and don’t care to touch on them, but to try to express why it doesn’t end the hurt for me personally.

It’s nothing to do with any aspect of the women’s game compared to the men’s, other than they feel like different teams to me. I’ve followed the men’s game all my life and have strong memories of the heartbreak I felt after Italia 90, when I was ten years old.

Teams evolve as players come in and out over time, obviously, but the England men’s team has always felt like my team (along with Man Utd). I’ve watched almost all the qualifiers, all the tournament games, and followed all the news and felt all the anxiety that came with it. I’ve followed the club careers of the players and had drunken arguments with people about who should or shouldn’t be in the squad. I’ve had the mornings after the penalty shoot-outs where the world seems to have ended, and the (many fewer) mornings after the penalty shoot-outs where I can’t believe we did it, we actually did it.

I remember the grudge matches where we beat the guys who knocked us out last time around and felt the endorphins flood my brain.

I don’t feel the same sense of attachment with the women’s team. I knew the names of about a third of the squad before the tournament but have never watched any of their club games and didn’t know much about them. I really enjoyed the tournament and was really excited for the final – and it was a fantastic experience that I won’t forget to have seen them do it…

… But it didn’t really feel like it was happening to “my team”.

This may change over time – I’m going to try and watch WSL games this season (if I can work out how!) and try and follow Toone, Russo and the other Utd players throughout the campaign. Maybe in future tournaments I will have the same attachment to this squad as I do with the men’s, and maybe I’ll look back with more of that attachment and feel more fortunate to have watched this achievement unfold at the time. It is historic, and a great achievement, but it doesn’t end the hurt for me.
Phil, Manchester


Erik ten Hag issues instructions to his Man Utd players.
Dissecting the Devils
I’m both bored and unwell so I’ve decided to have a bit of fun dissecting the Man Utd squad.

De Gea: showed glimpses in pre season that he could play how ETH wants, is seemingly able to do it in training, but unable to do it in a competitive game. Maybe it will come with time/confidence but it’s a worrying look.

Tom Heaton: the one man utd player actually doing his job by upping their English player quotient.

Shaw: has he ever been what he was bought to be? He looks 2 yards slower than he’s ever been with a level of disinterest that suggests he’s not fighting to get back there.

Malacia: I honestly haven’t formed an opinion yet but he should be starting over the other guy.

Martinez: contrary to popular belief Lisandro Martinez was also short last year. The Dutch league is, on average, taller, than the premier League. I’d suggest there’s no problem with his height, but with the incompetence of the players around him, utterly nullifying his strengths, and amplifying his limitations.

Maguire: He needs to go doesn’t he? Like, there’s a player there but his confidence is shot, he doesn’t fit the system and the fans hate him. He looks worse every day and I can’t imagine it getting better at Utd.

Lindelof: never quite been good enough to nail down his place in this utd side, which is perhaps the most damning indictment of a defender one could make.

Varane: Handsome boy, made of glass.

Jones: Has cost man utd more than benefit fraud cost the utd kingdom.

Dalot: the sort of young full back who’d presumably get a lot of love if he were second choice to an established player. I could see him coming on for Gary Neville on the 80 minute mark, doing a step over and getting a cheer from the faithful, safe in the knowledge that he’ll be nowhere near the first team for the big game next week.

AWB: I mean, It’s not his fault they signed him.

Eriksen: he’s been properly bad, but then if I turned up to work at my new job and there was shit all over the floor I’d probably struggle to perform too.

Fred: I once saw a kid chasing pigeons in the centre of Swansea, he followed them around, full of energy for what must’ve been about 20 minutes before, incredibly, catching one. At which point he had no idea what to do and started to cry.

Mctominay: quite good at hiding for a big lad.

Van De Beek: given his lack of opportunities in *this* team, one can only assume he ends each training session by shitting through the manager’s sunroof.

Garner: the only utd player who specialises in the position in which Manchester United desperately need to strengthen. So, of course, they’re selling him without giving him a go.

Fernandes: Man Utd sure do make players worse don’t they? I suspect he can be rehabilitated but quite a lot of work needs to happen between then and now.

Sancho: Man Utd sure do make players worse don’t they? I suspect he can be rehabilitated but quite a lot of work needs to happen between then and now.

Rashford: weirdly optimistic about this one, he’s still playing badly, but I get the vibe he actually cares about that at the moment, which is a pleasant change. Would probably be better off at PSG.

Elanga: the sort of young winger who gets a lot of love by simply looking like he gives a shit in team full of people who don’t seem to.

Garnacho: will be brilliant for real Madrid some day.

Ronaldo: Could potentially end up stuck at utd playing backup to Anthony Martial. Oh well, good for the SEO I suppose.

Martial: A player who’s always felt hard done by and correctly done by in equal measure. ETH seems to fancy him so we’ll see I guess.

Ten Hag: yet another demonstrably good manager suckered in by the promises of the man utd board. I have no sympathy about that though, it’s not like he didn’t have a lot of recent history to inform him.
Geraint, Swansea City


Loan to buy
Steve (THFC) asked in the afternoon Mailbox about why so many “Loan with obligation to buy” deals have started cropping up in football, especially more recently well after a bit of research I believe I can answer his question.

A club who sets up a deal in such a manner usually does so due to the financial benefits it has, it of course defers payment for a set time, this can help a club comply with FFP, their own league’s financial rules and when it comes to La Liga sometimes salary caps, as the buying club would not take on the full player’s salary straight away, it would be a set percentage as part of most loan deals.

Transfer limitations can also play a part, for example some leagues will have limits on how many times a player can be transferred in one season, to get around this rule a club can simply do a “loan to buy” deal.
The Admin @ At The Bridge Pod



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