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Why Mikel Arteta was right to criticise the officials

Why Mikel Arteta was right to criticise the officials

“Embarrassing, it’s an absolute disgrace, that’s what it is: a disgrace. There’s so much at stake, we’ve put in so many hours to compete at the highest level and you cannot imagine the amount of messages we’ve had saying this cannot continue. It’s embarrassing.”

Those were the words of Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta following his side’s 1-0 loss to Newcastle, in which Anthony Gordon’s goal was controversially allowed to stand despite a potential foul, a possible offside and the ball appearing to be out of play.

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This was far from the only contentious decision in the game, with Newcastle midfielder Bruno Guimaraes escaping a red card for an apparent elbow, and Arsenal forward Kai Havertz avoiding red for a two-footed challenge in the first half.

Saturday evening’s game was yet another in a long list of games to be overshadowed by refereeing decisions this season, with the PGMOL coming under increasing pressure to improve officiating standards.

In September, a communication error between VAR and the referee led to Liverpool’s Luis Diaz’s goal against Tottenham being wrongly ruled out for offside, whilst in August, Wolves were denied a penalty when Manchester United goalkeeper Andre Onana brought down Sasa Kalajdzic in the box, with the PGMOL forced to issue apologies in both instances.

Mikel Arteta is far from the first manager to call out officiating this season, with Wolves boss Gary O’Neil going on a scathing rant following a penalty decision given against his team in their recent 2-2 draw with Newcastle.

“It was a scandalous decision. It was a terrible on-field decision, and terrible that VAR didn’t intervene so I thought they got it badly wrong” O’Neil said post-match.

However, Mikel Arteta’s comments stirred up the most furore, with pundits quick to call out Arsenal after they released a statement backing their manager’s comments.

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Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher said: “This is not a moment to jump on the bandwagon with VAR and just batter people at Stockley Park and the officials because that’s not right.”

Former Liverpool striker Michael Owen posted on social media: “The only (in his words) “embarrassing” and “disgraceful” thing about it was Arteta’s behaviour.

“A common occurrence that damages the game more than any incorrect decision. For his club to now release a statement moaning about the standard of officiating is poor and sadly for a team of Arsenal’s standing, totally classless.”

While a club publishing a statement in support of comments made by their manager is not commonplace, it does not seem an altogether unreasonable thing to do.

Mikel Arteta’s comments were of an emotional manager who felt his team had been robbed of a valuable away point.

Suggestions that such words, and subsequent statements in support, somehow undermine the officials simply do not wash.

The fact is that referees have been making far too many mistakes of late, as proven by the number of apologies given by the PGMOL over reason seasons.

Mikel Arteta is well within his rights to call out officiating when it does not meet the standards expected of the so-called “best league in the world” – the Spaniard was simply echoing the thoughts of many fans on Saturday night, both Arsenal supporters and neutrals.

Every single week, we are forced to accept terrible decisions, with both the officials on the field and those operating VAR seemingly unable to make the correct calls on a consistent basis.

Whether Newcastle’s goal should have stood or not is debatable; the ball was most likely not 100% out of play, the offside decision could not be proved either way due to a lack of camera angles, and the possible foul was one that both has and hasn’t been given in the past.

What should not be a debate however is a manager’s right to speak; the Gunners’ boss did nothing but vent his frustrations at a decision as other managers do regularly.

If Arsenal were to go on a bad run of form, people would be questioning Mikel Arteta, speculating whether he is the right man to lead the club, so why should the officials be immune to such questioning?

Decisions by referees can end up costing managers their jobs, and Newcastle’s goal, coupled with Guimaraes avoiding a red card, could prove costly for the North London club come the end of the season.

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Criticism of officials must not cross the line – nobody wants to see death threats sent to them as we saw in rugby union recently with World Cup final referee Wayne Barnes – but Mikel Arteta’s comments definitely did not traverse into such territory.

Everyone in football ultimately wants the same thing – as few officiating mistakes as possible with as little interruption to the action on the field as possible.

VAR has been a success in many ways, with far fewer goals wrongly awarded or disallowed due to offsides, and fewer fouls in the box missed. Still, it’s clear that despite the technology having been in English football for several years now, the people operating it are still not quite getting it right.

The only way things will improve is if managers continue to call out those in charge when they get things wrong – shutting up and accepting bad refereeing is no good for anyone.

Pundits can criticise Mikel Arteta and Arsenal as much as they like, but they felt aggrieved and were right to voice their anger at yet more poor officiating.

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