Ding, Dong, Respect is Dead

Manchester United has reached the half-way point in their season and yesterday’s 3-0 thumping of Chelsea was the perfect foil for all that is wrong with the Premier League. From the hapless officiating of Howard Webb, to the overt displays of disrespect from Wayne Rooney, to the hapless attacking of Chelsea the signs are all there that the Premier League is very very sick, if not already passed.

First in this mini-series on officiating and “the beautiful game,” I turn my attention to Howard Webb. Lauded by many outside of the Arsenal circle now for many years as the “best official in England”  some of the cracks are beginning to show and I’ve seen a few commentators take some of his decisions to task. Even still, right now, I agree that Howard Webb is the pinnacle of English officiating.

I have seen this type of official many, many times in my career as a sports fan: he’s the “I’m in charge here” official. He’s the guy who feels like it’s his job to dictate the game. He, like Graham Poll before him, will often give out a quick yellow to let both teams know that he’s the boss. The problem is that in doing that he becomes the center of the game rather than the players and even if he gets every decision perfect, by injecting himself into the spotlight, he radically changes the game. It’s no longer 22 men playing against each other in a fair competition it’s “how will Howard Webb call this game?”

In the first 5 minutes on Sunday, Webb gave Lampard a yellow card. Now, I’ve seen a lot of fouls. I’ve seen a lot of Chelsea fouls. I’ve seen Frank Lampard get away with fouls that would have had lesser players sent off. But I can’t recall the last time I saw Frank Lampard get a yellow card in the first 5 minutes of a big game for a very slight foul. It wasn’t Lampard’s transgression (Lord knows he’s sinned) that earned him that yellow, it was Howard Webb telling the world that he was in charge and that one call radically changed that game.

The lie of the whole thing is that Webb isn’t in charge. All you have to do is see the disgraceful way that Wayne Rooney acted after he’d kicked a player who was shielding the ball for a throw in to see this point illustrated. Rooney was called over by Webb, presumably for another talking too (his 3rd of the game) and he turned his back on Webb and walked away. When Webb blew his whistle and called Rooney over he threw his hand up in the universal sign of “go fuck yourself” and kept walking, back turned. It was eerily reminiscent of the Ashley Cole, Mike Riley incident last year that supposedly sparked the whole “Respect” campaign and yet here we are, in the midst of this “Respect” campaign and the league’s best official is chronically incapable of keeping the respect of even one player, much less the whole Manchester United team. Respect, my ass.

Those two instances sum up the problems with officiating in the league: we see it every weekend and everyone knows that the games are not called fairly. As Rafa Bentiez would say “It’s a fact.” When Javier Mascherano can be sent off for his petulant display against the referees while Wayne Rooney gets away with it in every game there are clearly different rules being applied. Does anyone think for a second that Gael Clichy would be allowed to disrespect Howard Webb by turning his back on him and waving him off in the “go fuck yourself” manner? No, of course not.

And back to Lampard’s yellow, I’m no Chelsea fan, in fact I think they are a bunch of cheating scumbags, but that was not the old dirty Chelsea out there by any stretch of the imagination. Certainly not the kind of Chelsea team that deserved 5 yellow cards. And more to my point, if Lampard gets a yellow straight away for that tackle, then how on earth did Kevin Davies escape a yellow against Arsenal for either of his first two fouls?  Both of those fouls are straight red cards if I’m officiating because they are intentional dangerous play. Both the “oops, I was jumping” elbow to the face and the “I’m going for the ball” stamp on your opponent’s foot intend harm in order to “soften up” your opponent –  red card, end of story. The point is, unless the official wants to say “I’m in charge” fouls are treated differently depending on who is committing them and/or at what point in the game they are committed.

If the league wants fans and players and managers to respect the officials then these officials will need to do something to earn our respect because right now the only time anyone respects the officials is when their club is on the receiving end of beneficial treatment. The danger of that culture, where we all just expect poor decisions or see one team being treated differently than another is that we become inured to that discrepancy between the rules and how they are called and when that happens, you get the referee scandal that hit Serie A and the referee scandal that hit the NBA.

Dirty officials can’t get away with making bad calls if we all expect games to be called fairly. To that end, I’d like to see a couple changes. First, instant replay: there is no reason on earth that penalty claims, goal claims, straight red cards, and the like can’t be challenged using video evidence. A sensible system by which managers and fans can get some satisfaction by challenging a decision is absolutely needed and would lead to my second change. Second, no talking to the officials by managers and players. Apart from asking the fourth official to challenge a call, managers should not be in their technical area disgracing themselves by squawking at the officials. I’m looking at you Mr. Wenger. Moreover, players and managers should not be allowed to follow the official down the tunnel and ask them questions during half-time. I’m looking at you Mr. EveryEnglishManager. Third, displays like the ones that Wayne Rooney acts out in every Premier League match should be punished, every time.

True respect cannot be mandated. However, by cleaning up the big calls using video replay, scrubbing the taint of collusion by keeping managers and players away from the referees during breaks, and by punishing players when they show disrespect the league could clean up its image quite a bit and get things back on the right track. If they don’t, the cloud of impropriety will continue to hang over the league.

Because right now, if Man U was paying off the officials, would anybody notice the difference?

Arshavin deal going pear shaped?

fail

With the Man U v. Chelsea match looming large and Rafa Benitez’ comments about Sir Alex Ferguson dominating the news cycles there is precious little Arsenal news to report this morning.

In fact, I have no facts. I have rumor and innuendo. The most disappointing rumor of the day is that Arsenal only offered £10m for Arshavin, which has been rejected by Zenit outright. If it’s true, it’s actually a hilarious bid, I mean, this is a guy who Zenit wanted £24m for this summer. Sure, his value is lower because he’s cup tied and he wants to get away from Zenit, but £10m? Even as an initial offer it’s hilarious.

Of course, Zenit are clearly now playing the whole thing up in the press, in order to generate other offers, like from Man City. Considering that Zenit have told City how cheaply (for them) they can have the player, and considering how much more City can pay Arshavin, I think the whole deal now has to have been thrown into question. Like they say, when you lie with rats you get up with fleas, and bubonic plague, or something.

It’s a real shame too, I was watching some video of Arshavin and he really does have the skills that Arsenal need up front right now. More than ever, if Arsenal want to get this guy, they are going to have to play hardball: or start looking somewhere else.

In other rumors, Arsenal are being linked to Jimmy Bullard and Jack Collison. Bullard has a ton of heart and that alone would make him an improvement over Diaby. Collison? Well, Collison is tall, which seems to be the only qualification for getting linked to Arsenal right now.

Short blog today, I’m going to start breakfast so that I can be well fed for the big match. One final note, my prediction of dysentery was very close… seems like a fire alarm went off in the Chelsea hotel, disrupting their sleep.

Now, if they could get some bad lasagne for lunch…

Arsenal 1-0 Bolton; Vela Sparks Win

Match Reports/Stats

ESPNSoccernet: Bendtner at the Death

Sky Sports: Bendtner Blow Breaks Bolton

Match Video

Arsenalist

The Good

Toure was handed the captain’s armband for the kickoff and I guess you could say that it paid dividends. Despite the fact that Toure looked very rusty, despite the fact that he and Almunia lacked any semblance of communication, and despite the fact that Diaby was a joke as the “holding” midfielder, the defense under Toure kept a clean sheet.

In all honesty though, a lot of credit for the clean sheet must go to Djourou who won a metric ton of headers — all of them brave winners as well, what with Kevin Davies’ elbows threatening to rupture everyone’s skull.

On the other end of the pitch Arsenal looked predictable, passing the ball sideways and across the midfield as Bolton sat back and comfortably dispossessed Diaby as soon as the ball came to him. This continued even after the break when Wenger moved Diaby wide and put Nasri in the middle.

It wasn’t until Wenger brought on Vela that the team looked like they were ready to score a goal. Vela shimmered and gave us glimpses of the type of player he will be in a few years (if not THIS year!). His energy, width and most importantly ability to get to the end line was crucial in stretching the Bolton defense just enough for van Persie to get a shot off that hit the post and eventually, for RvP to put in the cross that Bendtner poked home. All the match reports will headline Bendtner’s goal but really it was Vela who opened the game up. He was outstanding.

The Bad

Diaby had a nightmare game — it was the textbook definition of how not to play in central midfield. Maybe he is confused, maybe Arsene’s system (where pretty much everyone plays everywhere) is difficult for him to understand, I don’t know, but he certainly didn’t look like he knew what he was doing. Now, typically I’ll forgive a player for making mental errors and I’m the first to defend a player for making physical errors but Diaby made the cardinal and unforgivable sin of seeming not to give two fucks.

His performance was shocking and incredible. I can’t believe that this Arsenal team, famous for our heart and fight has a player in midfield who can’t seem to be arsed to win the ball back when he makes a mistake. I can forgive the ponderous dribbling, the poor passes, and the fact that he didn’t seem to know where he was supposed to be on the pitch but I can’t forgive him receiving the ball, and casually dribbling the ball across the pitch while McCann bears down on him. He didn’t just do this once, it was constant.

Let’s hope that Wenger moving him to the wing and eventually taking him off lights a fire under his ass because Arsenal really need all of our midfielders to play at or above their level now with Cesc injured.

The Ugly

I'm a coont, I'm a cooont, suck my diiiiiick, I'm a cooont!

Honestly, I can’t blame Kevin Davies. The referee lets him get away with his dirty play, so it’s not really cheating is it?

Davies had a typical performance, which is to say that he had more fouls than touches. He sent the message early on when he slapped Clichy in the face while “going for the ball.” Everyone in the world knew that Davies wasn’t going for the ball but instead was trying to soften up his marker, you know a few slaps to the face and maybe Clichy won’t go for the ball as strong the next time. The ref though, felt like a nice chat and a cup of tea would set Davies straight.

It didn’t. A few minutes later he came in late on a “challenge” against Denilson and just stepped on Denilson’s foot. He knew exactly what he was doing. It was a professional foul pure and simple and was almost certainly a yellow card. But again, it was the referee who let him go about doing this stuff.

Chris Foy “warned” Davies no less than three times and gave him the “final warning” at least twice. Yet Davies received no yellow card, even after he made a “clumsy” tackle on Vela after his second “final warning.” Incredible stuff, especially in light of the two harsh yellow cards that Arsenal players received.

This was the kind of game that makes supporters wish there was a way for a club to appeal for retroactive yellow cards. I’m sure if any ref saw what Davies was doing on video tape they would award at least one yellow.

Final Thoughts

Yes, Arsenal won. 1-0 in fact, which I have been asking for. But this Arsenal team is suffering from a couple of problems: lack of creativity and width and lacking the ability to play more than one style.

The first can be and may be solved in the transfer market. Andrei Arshavin would almost certainly provide both width and creativity and his ability to get to the end line alone would be a boon to this club.

But the other problem is actually more vexing and I’m not sure can be overcome by dipping in to the market. For years now we’ve heard that Arsenal play “the beautiful game” and we’ve heard people drool over their ball movement and intricate play. The problem is that intricate play isn’t beautiful unless something comes of it; goals. In fact, intricate play is boring and frustrating if it doesn’t lead to goals.

So, I’ll be the first to say it: this Arsenal team was boring and predictable for 65 minutes. In fact, almost all of their matches are boring and predictable now: teams come in, sit back, invite the attack and counter when we cough it up.  Arsenal move the ball left and right and maybe get a shot or two that don’t really bother the keeper.

The league table reflects this predictability, and worse, the stands reflect it as well. Arsenal announced 60,000 fans in attendance but there were a lot of empty seats (attendance numbers are actually sales numbers, not the number of times the turnstyle is turned).

Wenger needs to adress this problem by introducing some variation to the Arsenal playing style or risk losing both trophies and fan support. The odds are much better that Arsene will buy Arshavin for £20m than change his playing style so I think we’re in for a season of matches like the one today.

Anyway, big match tomorrow as Man U take on Chelsea. Liverpool dropped points today away to giant killers Stoke City so the match tomorrow is huge for United. A win by either United or Chelsea makes the battle at the top of the table more interesting but I can’t root for that. What I’m hoping for is a draw to keep Arsenal as close to the top four as possible. If an outbreak of dysentery struck both teams and the game was called at half time with a 1-1 draw, that would be a bonus.

See you tomorrow!