A message from a fan account called the Arsenal Therapy Show, which was originally posted earlier in the year, was getting renewed traction on X on Monday. ‘Like this tweet if you would sign a petition to have @GNev2 (Gary Neville) banned from commentating on Arsenal games,’ it said.
By late afternoon on Monday, more than 25,000 people had done exactly that. Others suggested Neville and his Sky Sports colleague Jamie Carragher should both be prevented from entering the Emirates for future games. I don’t know if the petition has materialised yet but it wouldn’t surprise me if it did.
Neville’s crime – and Carragher’s – was to say he believed the decision to allow Newcastle’s bitterly-contested winning goal against Arsenal to stand at St. James’ Park on Saturday evening was correct. Their wider crime was to fly in the face of more hysterical attacks on the standard of refereeing in the Premier League and say that VAR got it right.
VAR in particular, and referees in general, have become the easy out for every manager, every fan and every club who cannot handle defeat and need someone else to blame. If you’re Mikel Arteta and you want to pass the buck because your goalkeeper has had a nightmare again, you pass that buck to VAR.
And you pass that buck with increasing vehemence and passion and conviction and emotion so that your club mistakenly feels the need to get involved, too, as if a defeat is some incredible miscarriage of justice that goes to the very core of the system and infects football’s body politic.
Mikel Arteta was animated as ever in the dugout during Arsenal’s defeat against Newcastle
Ref Stuart Attwell had to deal with a host of dubious decisions during the high-octane match
Arteta fumed at the standard of refereeing on show during his side’s defeat at St. James’ Park
That is how we get to a point where Arsenal, a club that remains revered by most in this country for being a bastion of elegance and class, somehow believes it is right to release a shamefully irresponsible statement doubling down on Arteta’s emotional incontinence.
Arsenal played to the gallery. Nothing more. The statement talked about ‘yet more unacceptable refereeing and VAR errors’. Calm analysis showed that those errors they talked about – there were none.
‘The Premier League is the best league in the world with the best players, coaches and supporters, all of whom deserve better,’ Arsenal’s statement continued. Three points at last because this was a win for over-reaching pomposity.
Yes, the Premier League and its fans deserve better: they deserve better than a fine club like Arsenal making fatuous, self-serving, crowd-pleasing statements that undermine the authority of officials and encourage the lunatic fringe who see corruption and conspiracy everywhere.
You see the thing is, it’s not just VAR that is flawed; it is our attitude to it, too. The weekly histrionics about VAR say more about us than they do about the system. They tell us about our inability to deal with adversity. They tell us about our desire to deflect blame. They tell us about our desire to vilify others and our failure to take responsibility for our shortcomings.
The tail is wagging the dog in English football. We spend more time analysing decisions and assasinating referees than we do enthusing about Erling Haaland or Bukayo Saka. Moaning and whingeing about what is usually a correct offside decision or a penalty call takes up more time than praising a match where there is often much to praise.
Maybe we should devote a little more attention to players who appear to dedicate an inordinate amount of time to deceiving referees rather than the referees who are victims of that deception. It could be said Wolves have been the victims of two bad penalty decisions in recent weeks. It is more accurate to say they have twice been the victims of cheats.
It was a different story in the North East on Saturday. The officials – the system – were traduced for getting something right. It didn’t stop the histrionics. VAR must be banned. Enough is enough. On and on with the hissy fit. No one’s saying you have to like VAR but much of the reaction to it is deeply irrational.
There were a series of flashpoints in the match and Arsenal later supported Arteta’s rant about the game’s refereeing
The details of Anthony Gordon’s goal for Newcastle have been painstakingly pored over
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We all know the details of Anthony Gordon’s goal by now. It has been pored over more painstakingly than the Zapruder footage. Joe Willock retrieved a wayward shot by the goal-line, crossed it towards Joelinton, who leapt for it in a challenge with Gabriel and when the ball dropped, Gordon swept it over the line.
Yes, there are contentious aspects to it. Did the ball go out before Willock retrieved it? The footage is inconclusive. What isn’t inconclusive is that when Willock chases the ball towards the corner flag, he is alone. There are six Arsenal players in the box. All of them stand and watch him.
Was Gabriel fouled by Joelinton? Again, the footage is inconclusive. Neville and Carragher were both hugely accomplished defenders. They thought Joelinton’s challenge was legitimate. Was Gordon offside when the ball dropped? Once more, technology could not provide the answer.
Arteta flew into a rant of almost comical petulance in which, inevitably, he sought to blame the officials for Arsenal’s loss
When Arsenal lost, the screaming started. From their fans, who said they had been cheated, but most of all from their manager, Arteta, who flew into a pathetic rant of almost comical petulance in which, inevitably, he sought to blame the officials for Arsenal’s loss.
Arteta grew so impassioned that at one point it felt as if he was blaming VAR for the state of the nation. He asked for help, as if he were caught in the midst of an emergency. ‘I feel embarrassed having more than 20 years in this country,’ he said, as if VAR would force him to flee to a civilised place where no one ever errs.
He said he was embarrassed. He said it was a disgrace. He said that in China, in Japan, in Spain, in Italy and in Portugal, such a goal would not be allowed.
Around the same time, footage emerged of Iago Aspas of Celta Vigo hurling a pitchside monitor to the floor after a late penalty award was overturned in a 1-1 draw with Sevilla. So that’s Spain off the refereeing nirvana list then.
Arteta’s tantrum told us, again, that he does not deal with pressure particularly well
Arteta’s tantrum told us, again, that he does not deal with pressure particularly well. In fact, he appears to deal with it particularly poorly. The cold truth is that Arsenal did not lose the match because of refereeing decisions. The truth is Newcastle deserved to win the game. They were the better team.
And if there was one moment in the build-up to the goal that was more important than any other, it was the moment when the Arsenal goalkeeper, David Raya, the goalkeeper Arteta has chosen to replace an in-form Aaron Ramsdale, let Willock’s cross sail over his flailing arm and on to the head of Joelinton.
But that is an inconvenient truth. Far better to shoot the messenger or lambast the fourth official or scream about the system, to stoke an atmosphere where referees have already become figures of hate, to undermine VAR further, to blame someone else for your own shortcomings.
Here’s another inconvenient truth: Arsenal will not win the title until they have a manager who takes responsibility for his own decisions. If Arteta cannot become that man, Arsenal’s drought will go on.
Verstappen’s dominance is an incredible tribute to talent
Max Verstappen, who took the chequered flag in the Sao Paulo Grand Prix on Sunday, has won more races in an F1 season — 17 and counting — than any driver in history, beating his own record of 15.
It might not have made for an exciting drivers’ championship but his dominance is an incredible tribute to his talent and the excellence of the Red Bull team he drives for.
Max Verstappen has now won more races in an F1 season — 17 and counting — than any driver in history
Harry’s form bodes well for Euros
There were few doubts about Harry Kane’s quality before he moved from Tottenham to Bayern Munich in the summer but any that may have lingered have been dispelled by the stellar start he has made in the Bundesliga.
Kane got a hat-trick against Borussia Dortmund in Der Klassiker on Saturday, taking his total since he moved to Germany to 17 goals in 14 games.
With all the normal caveats and prayers about avoiding injury, it feels as if his move has come at the perfect time for England’s attempt on the European Championship in Germany next summer.