Saturday 3 November 2012, Old Trafford. Manchester United versus The Arsenal. Mike Dean the referee. Robin van Persie their star player.
This could get ugly. In a number of ways.
It could get ugly in the way that Manchester United teams always ugly up their game against Arsenal. They love to sit back and kick Arsenal up and down the pitch. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if their game plan tomorrow is to target Cazorla the way that they targeted Reyes in 2004. That was the infamous “Battle of the Buffet” where Referee Mike Riley awarded Manchester United a penalty in the 70th minute when Wayne Rooney dived over Sol Campbell’s leg. Wenger said that Rooney admitted that there was no contact and that left Arsene Wenger fuming about Mike Riley awarding United a penalty stating “We got the usual penalty awarded against us when we come to Manchester United and they are in difficulty.” That game ended Arsenal’s unbeaten run at 49 games.
Refereeing tends to play an unusually large part in these games, and the game could get ugly with Mike Dean as referee. Mike Dean’s record as referee in Arsenal matches is quite extraordinary. Prior to August 2009, Arsenal played 25 matches in all competitions with Mike Dean as referee and their record was W15 D9 L1. Since August 2009, Arsenal have played 15 matches with Dean as referee and their record is W2 D5 L8. Mike Dean has awarded 3 penalties in those last 15 games, all to the opposition: Man U, Burnley, and Tottenham.
What was so special about that game in August 2009? Rooney was awarded a penalty when he shouldn’t have been. He was bearing down on the ball in the box, kicks it into the Stretford End, and before any contact is made, begins to falls to the ground. Not all contact is a foul folks, and this is an instance where the contact is not a foul and given that he would never recover the ball in a billion years, should not have been awarded that penalty.
The game, however, was far from over at that point and Arsenal fought back to draw level at 2-2 when Robin van Persie’s equalizer was ruled offside on William Gallas in the buildup. This prompts Arsene Wenger to kick a water bottle and Mike Dean sends Arsene off on the advice of the fourth official, Lee Probert. Mike Dean sends Arsene Wenger off but sends him into the stands to be humiliated by the United fans as they sing their vile pedophile chant at him. In the aftermath of the game Keith Hackett (then chief of the referee’s association) forces Lee Probert to apologize to Arsene Wenger.
Arsenal’s record with Lee Probert as referee since? P7 W2 D2 L3.
It’s all so strange that Mike Riley, the official in the Battle of the Buffet, is now the head of the Professional Game Match Officials Board — which is the organization that decides which match officials will referee games. He picked Mike Dean to referee this match. Please, do me a favor and try to tell me that wasn’t intentional.
Even if Mike Dean has a good game, it could get ugly because Manchester United’s new superstar left Arsenal as a disgrace. Despite chattering all Spring about how much he loved Arsenal and as Gingers for Limpar points out in this exceptional piece sending his women to talk about how much they love Arsenal and wanted to stay, he apparently went to Arsene Wenger’s house and demanded that specific players be signed, players he named. When Wenger outlined his plans to buy Podolski and others to strengthen his squad, it was reportedly not enough for the Dutchman and a fiery argument ensued. Wenger decided then and there to be shot of this player who suddenly felt like he could dictate Arsenal’s transfer policy. That he was bigger than the club.
Arsenal tried to offload him to Juventus. They even offered Juve a cut rate deal of somewhere like £15m. Juventus stumped the money and Robin refused to sign for the Old Gray Lady, that should tell you right there that he wanted to fuck Arsenal. Man City offered Robin the most lucrative personal terms but refused to pay Arsenal’s asking price and so in the end Robin signed with Manchester United. Apparently, with the signing of Cazorla, Robin changed his mind and wanted to stay at the Arsenal. But given the argument in the Spring, the Independence Day letter to the fans and the insults toward management it contained, and his refusal to sign for Juventus, there was no way he could stay at Arsenal.
And som this will be Robin’s first look in at Man U v. Arsenal from the other side. The side that cheats to get a win, that has no honor, that deliberately targets technically gifted players with shit-kickers, and who are encouraged to dive to win penalties. A look in from the side that gets all the calls from referees like Mike Riley, Lee Probert, and Mike Dean.
Robin is the kind of player who takes things personally. If he isn’t itching to get one over on Arsenal, I would be very, very surprised. And if he hasn’t been told by his manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, to do whatever it takes to win this game, I will also be very, very surprised. That’s why I think Robin will play with elbows flying, something he was criticized by Fergie for last year but will be encouraged to do tomorrow. Robin will also put in some spicy tackles, probably on Cazorla. Remember, that Adebayor’s stamp on Robin’s face came after Robin slid in from distance with studs raised. And though he doesn’t have a reputation as a diver, I have no doubt that should the opportunity present itself, Robin van Persie will dive to try to win a penalty. I can think of nothing uglier than that scene.
The stages are set at the Theater of Dreams and there might even be a football game hidden in all this drama tomorrow. Though I kind of doubt it. There’s just too much history of bad blood between the teams. But if some football does happen to occur remember that Man United’s defense isn’t the best right now and their midfield is kind of crap as well. There’s something of a chance here for Arsenal, I think. And while I’m not making any predictions, apart from van Persie covering himself in ignominy, I hold out hope that Arsenal will rise above all the drama and put in a performance worthy of the club.