Q: When Is A Penalty Not A Penalty? (Or, ‘How To Judge A Ref And The Role Of The Flops’)

Q: When is a penalty not a penalty? A: When it doesn’t look like one.

In these crazy, mixed-up times, even Joey Barton is calling for video technology to be introduced into the English top flight. I agree {shudder}, I’m all for it. But in its absence officials still need to make decisions based upon what they see.

Used to be that what was a freekick outside the box was a penalty inside it. But a combination of the heightened importance of such a decision in providing an unchallenged attempt on goal, changing a game and/or reducing the number of players on a team has completely altered that. These days officials seem unwilling to give penalties unless there is little doubt in their minds. But even when they do, and even with the backing of second, third, fourth (and perhaps not) fifth or sixth match officials they still get things wrong.

Human error has a part to play, but there’s another thing going on here. A cold, hard, case of The Flops. That is attempting to make and official give a penalty by overacting, going down too lightly or just absolutely cheating.

Now I don’t wish to call into question the integrity of many of the football players I watch and some of whom I dearly support, but it’s hardly a revelation to suggest that sometimes some players go down a bit easy. Afterall, if the Lehmann vs Drogba pantomime spectacular told us anything, it was that our professional players have more than an inkling of how to make the most of a bit of contact. They’re not alone either. A couple of years ago, when I still actively played Saturday League, some players actively practised (albeit in jest) dives in training. Equally, type “Gerrard/Rooney/Walcott/Lampard dive” into YouTube and see what you get.

It might be suggested that The Flops goes on quite a lot. And it might be equally refuted. Sitting at home, and even in the stands, it can be hard to have a full appreciation of the sheer speed, and therefore, colliding forces, impact, centres of balance and  – even – the intentions to fall to the ground of our top, top players. Be that as it may, our officials still need to make decisions. Even when not in the best position, and at times further from the incident in question than some fans.

After the defeat against Fulham on Monday, Arsene Wenger responded to whether he agreed if the claim by Gervinho of being fouled by Phillipe Senderos was a penalty:

200%…anyway, we know we don’t get penalties. We had one against…err, at home in the last game against QPR, we had one today and [they’re] never given anyway.

But we (Arsenal) do get penalties. Walcott earned and van Persie converted one against Aston Villa on 21st December. But it was obvious Theo was fouled. Tugged back plain as day, and he didn’t need to hit the deck to make his point. Gervinho was clipped by Senderos, yes. And van Persie was bundled by Senderos…yes. But while in the second situation it’s feasible the referee Lee Probert was unsighted, in the first he may have been “turned off” by Gervinho’s fall.

And can we blame him, his officials or colleagues if that’s ever the case? Surely it’s far easier to forgive them for such missed decisions if  they’re not 100% certain a player is impeded or an indiscretion occurred. Even if a foul is committed, overacting it might achieve the reverse of what was hoped for. And even when decisions are given it’s not always clean cut.

Just last night, Man City won 3-0 against Liverpool and were awarded a penalty. Have a look. Can you tell me with 100% certainty that it is or isn’t one? You could argue that a 6’2″ man of about 14st (I’m estimating here, as City’s player page omits Toure’s weight) shouldn’t go down that easy. This might also be called “The Drogba Offence”. You may even speculate that having sprinted the length of the half to get there, Yaya felt it better to go down under any contact and get a penalty to potentially kill off Liverpool.

The alternative is to stay up and shoot from an awkward angle under pressure. With 17 minutes left to play, and his team just down to 10 men. You might equally argue that there was enough – even untintentional – contact from Skrtel at the speed Yaya Toure was travelling to send him tumbling. But you’d have to have a higher grasp of the physics behind such collisions than I.

What you can’t possibly argue is that the referee (who is nowhere near as quick as Yaya Toure, and so further down the pitch), or even the nearest assistant referee, can say with absolute certainty that it was or wasn’t the correct decision. But at full speed, and from a bit of a distance it looks like one. Doesn’t it?

And this is the point. For I think the tide should be changing in Premier League football: In the absence of absolute certainty, or even the degrees of certainty to which video technology would allow us to reach (and which I hope very quickly makes my following comment irrelevant) penalty decisions are all down to whether they appear to be one. In the past players could play to this a little with The Flops: ‘making the best of it’, exaggerating and ‘simulation’. But these days it might be best to try something slightly different. You know, players may actually benefit – like Theo did – from attempting to stay on their feet. And as a result we may lose the terror of The Flops, while maintaining a modicum of sanity.

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Mother Hen

Quick blog as the day’s got a bit away from me. Still, as long as it’s longer than a tweet I can justify writing this here, I suppose. So:

But for some resolute defending and an international-worthy display by Wayne Hen(nessey) refusing to let us count goal(den egg)s pinched from his much guarded ne(s)t, we’d have taken the three points yesterday. Frustrating as it is we didn’t. But hay.

What we did do was pretty much dominate possession, but fail to get any reward from plenty of shots and fistfuls of corn(ers). Okay I’ll stop.

In all seriousness though it’s hard to be too critical. Against eleven men we created chances and against ten we just couldn’t find the second. I can’t say too much about Fletcher’s equaliser. It was lucky. From a deflected assist, he was onside and he put it in the only place Szczesny couldn’t have got to it.  I feel a bit silly because before the goal I was about to bemoan the Nervous Ned in front of me who was cursing every mistake (and player making one) like he’d a made a pact to piss me off. But it turns out he was right. That time.

Still, him calling Mertesacker a “pussy” was hard to swallow.

The positives are that Yossi did well in Theo’s position (and was probably knackered when he came off), while Rosicky, The Little Mozart, conducted himself well and hardly played a bum note.

It was his driving run, cut back and pass to Benayoun which enabled Gervinho to look the most assured he did all afternoon and put us one up. It was also Rosicky who – a couple of times – used his trademark feint turn (keep an eye out for that one) to get away form markers in the midfield before driving forward. And he also played some midfield and defence splitting passes before almost, almost, setting up the big German for a headed goal with a beautiful out side of the right boot flicked cross.

Super Tom could be on his way back, and I think Rambo’s got a fight on.

Having said that, the Welsh captain did well when he came on, and added that enthusiasm from the bench that I’ve mentioned we certainly need. More starting with effective, older and more experienced players would be a good thing I think. Let’s make the younger guns work to impress.

Random thoughts on a couple of other players:

Chamakh – I think that was Mauro’s eighth appearance of the season. Scoring one in every four, he now owes us a goal…

Arshavin – Was a pass, pass, passer when he appeared lacking the edge and guile we needed…although his little backlift, snap-shot was a reminder of the ability in those feet. Oh, how I wish it had gone in.

Anyway, what with all the teams around us (bar Spurs) dropping two points, we’ve missed a chance to sneak up the table. But it’s done. Onto QPR, and here’s hoping Paddock Kenny is unable to keep our ball game off of his grass.

COYG!

 
 

All for Toll (And Toll For All)

Well that was absolutely fantastic.

I spent yesterday evening in the Tollington in Holloway, and what an Arsenalsome night. I came out of Finsbury Park underground, my usual exit from all things Gunner-related, and took a stroll towards Holloway and into the unknown.

I’d not been to The Tollington before, but was reliably informed it was a fine place to drink, chat and be a total Gooner. I wasn’t to be disappointed.

Obviously I was there for the So Paddy Got Up book launch and, arriving quite early, asked one of the members of security personnel where said launch would be. Following instructions, I tentatively tiptoed my tall frame to the rear of the pub and (somehow) found myself at the front of two simultaneous queues that would last for a good three and a half hours.

Arseblogger was unmistakable in tone, and was looking relaxed before he gave a fine welcome and introduced his wife (Happy Belated Birthday, Mrs Blogs), and his brother the Mugsmasher. I was lucky to get my copy of the book sorted early, which handily left the rest of the evening for beer and random chats. Unfortunately, my planned strike partner for the evening couldn’t make it, and so I was on my own in playing forward.

But you’re never really on your own in an Arsenal pub as a Gooner…and certainly not with hundreds of others patiently waiting in line and/or drinking, and/or watching Man U and City exit the Champions League. So very soon I was talking and drinking with two regular away fans; Mark and Joseph.

Once I had established they weren’t contributors to So Paddy got Up (and they that I wasn’t either), I took a seat and we proceeded to watch the confusion in the eyes of people who weren’t sure whether they should ask for our signatures.

We perched on the end of what was to become the book’s contributor table, and managed to remain here throughout. We were asked if we should sign books once or twice but we declined, being honest folk, and went about our business of getting rounds in.

While all this was going on the Tolli was bubbling up nicely. As the United and City situations continued to look unfavourable for the Mancunians, I went in hunt of a few more established Arsenal bloggers so as to put names to faces and tweets to tones. I tracked down one half of Gingers4Limpar who was parched from a fair bit of signing, and then had a brief but enjoyable chat with Arse2mouse…and then Arse2mouse and Gingers4Limpar, and then Goodplaya, each of whom were top company. Then a little later on I introduced myself to the very finely-heeled (top shoes, I have to say) SianyMacalarny.

And, do you know, everyone was happy to chat and chew the fat. Meeting some of the people I regularly follow the blogs and tweets of was a very real treat. I’m not always the most forward of chaps, but in such friendly and relaxed surroundings a fine time was had, beer consumed and results and resulting songs enjoyed.

What’s more, I think I’ve found my new pre and post-match Arsenal pub. The Tolli staff were superb. Not content with having a pub rammed full of Gooners chanting “Thursday Night, Channel Five” at the Europa League bound Manchester clubs, the staff actually joined in! All the while delivering beer at the most impressive of speeds, and keeping smiles firmly on faces.

And actually, just thinking of yesterday evening puts the smile right back on mine. Last night it was good to be a Gooner, good to be at the Tolli, and good to enjoy the company of others just there to soak up the atmosphere.

Alas, I didn’t get to chat to many of the other fine people (bloggers or no) who were undoubtedly enjoying their own nights. But perhaps another time. And perhaps with a post-game pint or two.

They Came, They Sang, We Conquered

Staggering Dortmund Support

Having missed out on last season’s home tie against Barcelona in the Champions League, I think yesterday provided the briefest of hints of what a home European tie at the Emirates can be like. Of course Captain Vantastic did the business again, and we’re through to the knockout stage, with a job well done, but something else troubled me early on. And that was how the Dortmund fans out-sang us Gooners for much of the game.

I know away fans are usually loud, but the synchronised lake of yellow and black, was an incredible sight to behold, and more than once distracted me from an uninspiring start by Arsenal. A variety of co-ordinated sing-alongs, and hand claps – including a rendition of what sounded like Roll Out The Barrel – echoed from the corner of the Clock-End and East Bank, reaching us North Bank residents with little in the way of reply.

We tried our usual volume, but the Emirates wasn’t taking. Did the Dortmund game go to General Sale? I’m not sure. Perhaps people gave up trying to get to the game due to Underground delays, that accounted for the empty seats and so the lack of noise. Whatever it was, the Arsenal faithful were largely quiet.

Until we scored. Alex Song showed almost unbelievable (and somewhat uncharacteristic) style in passing three Dortmund players, and clipping a smart cross met by an RVP header that proved too powerful for Weidenfeller. And then the songs rang out, quite literally.

  • ONE SONG! We’ve only got ONE SONG!
  • 1-0 To The Arsenal!
  • Robin Van Persie! Robin Van Persie!
To which the Dortmund fans, quite rightly, responded with:
  • Sing When You’re Winning – You Only Sing When Your Winning!
I allowed myself a – perhaps, knowing – chuckle. Jimmy Nail’s hat on his head. Bang on.
Much of the Emirates last night only sang when we were winning. The support before was somewhat lacking, but afterwards you couldn’t shut us up. We went two up and the Dortmund fans kept singing. Then when Borussia pulled one back at the death, I could almost hear the collective gasp. The potential “Oh No” , and the fear we’d let another slip.
I don’t know what it is, but we seem to be progressing so quickly as a team that the fans on a match day (and I’m guilty too) are very quick to moan an complain, while fearing for our footballing sanity at the very slightest of slip ups. The team’s duty is to do its best on the pitch, but isn’t ours duty to do the best off it?
The one thing we need in 60,000 seater is atmosphere and support. Not everyone, but even half would be astonishing. After all, last night proved what 9,000 can do – even if they were wearing yellow and black.

Vindication?

I genuinely wonder what those who want/ed Wenger gone thought about yesterday. Because wasn’t the Frenchman vindicated in a fair amount of ways? I watched the game in S.London and it was surely one of the greatest games of football I’ve ever watched. It’s certainly one of the best starring The Arsenal, and it was probably one of the greatest shows of belief I’ve witnessed.

Twice we went behind, and twice we equalised. Gary Neville was having kittens at half time such was the quality of defence on show, but I cared about one thing only: Winning. That we conceded three goals highlights the issues we know are there. We struggled against crosses and corners, and until we can sing “Guess who’s Bac, Bac again”, Djourou will have to sharpen up at RB to keep young Jenks waiting in the wings. Likewise, ‘The Saint’ needs more of yesterday’s second half than the first if he’s to similarly frustrate a fit Kieran Gibbs. We battled, we pushed, we looked dangerous, and we found a team willing to prove we’ve got more than just a flying Dutchman to hold on tight to.

Ramsey, Arteta and Song grew as the game went on and Koscielny had another stormer, essentially nullifying Fernando Torres. In fact, Kos has such confidence at the moment that at one point he was tracking a player to our byline, got to the free ball first, slid, backheeled the ball against the chasing player, and deflected it out for a throw-in to us. Take note John Terry, that’s how you go to ground.

Theo – although needing to be far more alert to possibilities  in the final third – prowled the right and showed his fleet-footedness in the best way, while Szczesny is a keeper who has confidence enough to physically move our defenders to his preferred positions for set piece defence. Whether the Pole was lucky to be on the pitch after taking down Cashley Cole (not a red for me) is debatable.

But we won. We scored five against Chelsea at their place,  and this was not a considerably weak Chelsea side. Thankfully Drogba’s suspension prevented him from taking his usual delight in rippling our net, but with the Chelsea players on show it was still a fearful test. Our boys never shied away from it, and the jubilation that followed the final whistle was surely echoed millions. In S. London we jumped around like goons to the goals, and when the end of the game arrived a contentedness that has been lacking from supporting the Gunners of late was simply overflowing.

It might have been just one game in the season, but it was our eighth win in nine, puts us back in the hunt for the top four, and surely fills this squad with much needed belief that we can move forward with the players we have, and really make an impact on the season.

But most importantly, it gives us all belief that this squad of players, and this manager, after a poor start to the season, are capable of producing those special moments that we live for as fans. It’s a glorious memory. One provided by a new squad under the watchful eye of the old master. And one that I hope proves that it’s far from time for Mr Wenger to say goodbye.

 

Let’s get pOXitive

Hopefully you’ll forgive me for not posting yesterday, in the aftermath of what turned out to be a good win for a team that had never played together, provided two full debuts and a spark of light from the boot of Alex ‘The Ox/AOC/Chambo’ Oxlade-Chamberlain. Any post yesterday would have been lacking in any decent content, so today’s is a bit of a roundup of things of the last couple of days.

Starting with the Carling Cup, I decided not to go to the Emirates to watch an Arsenal XI play a competent Shrewsbury first team (a guy needs some money, to eat), but I listened to the whole thing on Arsenal Player, and was subject to the stirring, but slightly ill-placed “Men Will Become Gods” Arsenal advert at half-time…when Arsenal were, arguably, lucky to be level with Shrewsbury Town. We suffered a bit at the back; Djourou was made captain but looked lacking without a confident Szczesny behind him who – no disrespect to Fabianski – would probably have come and claimed a cross that ended in a goal from James Collins.

Still, from the extended highlights, it’s fair to say we rallied, created chances and Gibbs (who was getting a fair amount of stick on Twitter) equalised with a well adjusted and powerful header. Make no mistake, not an easy goal. Of course we had a first look at Park, who played well from what I’m told, another look at the improving Coquelin – who at one point lost the ball in midfield and chased hard back to make a vital interception in our area, and all round decent second half performances. I think Chamakh put a good shift in, and then there was, as Jack Wilshere calls him, “Chambo”.

Thrown into desperate front line duty at Old Trafford, our most expensive summer signing could well have been affected by such an introduction to life at Arsenal. But three things the boy obviously has are heart, confidence and ability. He played as a guy of his age might: not always making the best decision, but with an eye for a pass, the ability to beat a man, and the confidence to try the shot that ended in his goal. Afterwards he said it just opened up for him. On the contrary Alex, you’re being closed down. He’s about 25yrds out and it’s a very good strike. Low, hard, and – quite obviously – worth a go.

I don’t want to pour adulation upon him, but I think we can say he might be a bit of a player. His interview after the game portrayed a guy who loves to play and who wants to play, who isn’t shy and who says of Southampton:

“I couldn’t have asked for more, so I’ve got a lot of time for them and I hope to be able to play there again one day and show my appreciation. I’ll always have a place in my heart for them.”

Good to hear.

There’s calls for him to be included in the first team squad, but if anything I think he’ll be on the bench for a little while. Although it wouldn’t surprise me if he ousts a Theo or an Arshavin. Put the work in guys, there’s a new kid in town.

A few other bits to round up. For those still interested in the life of Francesc Fabregas, an ‘interview’ published in Sport that wasn’t very kind to Arsenal was never anything of the kind. A few misery guts called Cesc’s integrity into question, and it turns out the thing was compiled from old comments, his Barca presentation day and the active imaginations of the Sport editorial staff. Cesc said:

Got the apology and retraction from that magazine that made up an interview about me. Can’t believe some journalists. I will also get damages that I will give to charity. Hope it teaches them a lesson. I would NEVER say a bad word about Arsenal Football Club.

Hope it teaches them a lesson indeed.

Finally a couple of quick recommendations for you. I’m sure if you’re reading this Arsenal-themed blog you’re familiar with Arseblog, but I couldn’t help chuckle at this piece of information from Arseblog News. Also, can I genuinely recommend that you go here and read an interesting little bit from Gingers For Limpar. I’d recommend G4L, even if the wallpaper mesmerises. Perhaps that’s the point.

Anyway, it’s Bolton on Sat and there may be a preview from me before that. Still, in a week where we came from behind to progress in the Carling Cup, discovered that Mr Oxlade-Chamberlain knows where the goal is, and in which Spurs were knocked out of…the Carling cup, it’s not all doom and gloom.

See you.

Dortmund 1 – 1 Arsenal – Take it, take it.

Highlights.

I nearly called today’s post ‘A Tale of Two Ties’, as the fact that Barcelona drew in Europe is not one to be hidden down the back of the FIFA score drawer.

While we led the German champions until two minutes form the end of our tie, the Spanish champs went behind, went ahead, and then drew with the Italian champs, conceding one goal from open play (when Pato brushed past Barca’s high line), and a second from a set piece. Barcelona were held at home by champions. Arsenal were held away…by champions. Arsenal are not champions.

Looking at things from that perspective, anyone who thought we could go to the BVB Stadium and bring back three points must have realised they were a touch optimistic. That we nearly did was a superb achievement, the result of some resolute defending, a work ethic that – in the main – was shared by the whole team, but is also testament to a stunning effort from Ivan Perisic that Szczesny had little hope of seeing, let alone stopping.

So we’ll take that, won’t we? On paper, that’s the hardest away tie for us in the group, and that we went ahead and then nearly achieved our first clean sheet in Europe for three years speaks to the attitude of the players playing for us. Speaking of which, what an absolute professional and genuine worker Benayoun is proving to be. The Israeli captain hasn’t looked his 31 years so far, and of the last two games he told the club site:

We beat Swansea the other day and to take a point in the Champions League will build the confidence. There is a lot of quality in this team and I’m sure we will show it from game to game.

Absolutely bang on the money. On Saturday a win was a win, and last night the point was a fine result. That Benayoun – one of the players the less experienced should be turning to  – has his head screwed off the pitch and is putting in shifts on it can only be bonus to the team this season. On being at Arsenal he’s said.

It’s lovely to play for a big club like Arsenal and it’s a big challenge for me. I was happy that I have the chance to play and hopefully, with every chance I get, I will justify myself.

Well, no complaints here Yossi. I felt the boss would choose him ahead of Frimpong to add a bit of experience and attacking nous to the Germans’ equations, and that proved to be how it played out. He may not have had the best attacking game of his life, but there was a moment in the second half where he summed it all up for me: Battling one Dortmund player, and pressured to the ground as another engaged him (while unaware of winning a free kick) he made the effort kick the ball into space for another Arsenal player to take. Such commitment is welcome, and a great example to set.

Also mainly positive are the stats from last night’s game. Arteta had an 86% pass completion rate, continuing in his Swansea vein,  and the team as a whole won 58% of aerial battles. Arteta himself spilled blood for the cause, with a pressure relieving header he needed to win. Dortmund aren’t particularly threatening in the air as far as I know, but with most of or headers won by Mertesacker and/or Koscielny, that bodes well.

Dortmund had six corners and I don’t think we were really troubled with any of those first deliveries in…which is a start. From open play the odd occasion where we were undone, either good tracking back, solid defending or top goalkeeping paid off, and although I’m concentrating on our defence here, there were sparks of promise from the forward play, and RVP’s finish was superb.

But our defence being so resilient after going ahead is the story for me. We nearly defended a one goal lead for about 55 minutes (including stoppage time), and we can be mighty proud of the team for that.

There should be easier ties in Europe this season, and we should improve.

Well done the lads. Keep up the effort.