Inexperience costs Arsenal despite inconsistent refereeing

Inexperience in a pressure situation came back to bite Arsenal, created by on-field referee Stuart Atwell’s, and VAR ref Jarred Gillett’s perceived inconsistencies which looked to be favouring the champions, Manchester City.

But was it subconscious bias or incompetence as Atwell ran into the area as Arsenal had a chance to score with goal largely unguarded, meaning Martinelli had to adjust and subsequently miss?

Atwell: incompetence or subsconcious bias?

A young team is expected to be inconsistent and oscillate in form. And it was the case here, as Gabriel combusted getting an unnecessary card for speaking out of turn and a second yellow for a foul on Jesus – the 11th time an Arsenal player had been sent off since Arteta took over and four more than any other club in the same period. It tells a tale.

It looked like Arsenal were playing an image of what City have become, rather than the team on the day – which looked off the pace and tired. Which lead to hyperactivity, and rushed decisions including Martinelli’s misses and Gabriel’s red card.

And of course – one of the older heads, Granit Xhaka expected to calm things down, undid the great work of the first half by tugging on Silva’s shirt, as he was in mid-dive, giving Gillett the evidence for Atwell to have a look at the pitch-side monitor.

Unlike with Ederson’s foul on Odegaard in the area in the 12th minute for which nothing was given, with Australian Gillett finding no evidence of a ‘clear and obvious’ error – despite the majority of camera angles showing the Brazilian hitting the Norwegian’s foot before the ball veered off course.

So, the race for the title is effectively over on the first day of 2022. The Premier League must take some of the blame for letting Manchester City get too far ahead on spending – £2.07bn on transfers since 2000-2001 season and a net spend of £1.4bn, compared to Arsenal’s net spend in the same period of £546m. Chelsea manager Tomas Tuchel (with a club net spend £1.05bn in the same period) says it may take years to catch them up.

The sponsorship loophole which helped enable City to buy dominance was restricted last year – but it’s like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. And as for the Premier League attempting to tackle climate change – don’t go there.

The question pre-match – could Arsenal get a first win over city in Premiership for six years? Or at least show an improvement from the 5-0 hammering at the Etihad and score a league goal against City for the first time since February 2019?

Tomiyasu was back to help the cause – and the only Arsenal change.

Rodri and Mahrez were back for City with Ake at right back and Jesus up front.

City had a chance in the third minute with a two on one at a corner – Jesus getting above Gabriel. And soon after, Laporte got two v one again at a corner and missed an open goal.

But Arsenal were imposing themselves on City – with Lacazette leading the press and the team creating some flowing moves switching flanks.

Odegaard set Saka away. Martinelli attacked down the left and shot but Ederson saved.

Thomas Partey – best game for Arsenal

Halfway through the first half, the ball was moved from right to left via Partey, who had his best game for Arsenal and Odegaard which created an overload and Tierney to Saka who moved away from Laporte. Lacazette blocked Ake creating the space for Saka to hit home a sweeping finish.

Saka found Lacazette who set up Martinelli to drive inside but sent a shot over the right-hand post.

The cynical Rodri performed his customary tactical foul kicking the back of Saka’a calf in a break-away.

Martinelli’s ran down the left and wrapped a leg around Cancelo near the byline and the ball went agonisingly wide of the far post.

At the start of the second, four players converged on Saka on the left indicating the threat he was inflicting. Rodri crunched into a tackle on Martinelli.

And then on the left side of the Arsenal area, Silva feigned to go one way, went the other, hit Xhaka’s leg and during this dive, the Swiss grabbed his shirt, giving Gillett the evidence needed to go and look at the pitch-side monitor. Gabriel was booked for saying something out of turn and Mahrez knocked the penalty to Ramsdale’s left.

Soon after, Laporte headed over Ederson and Ake kicked it off the line. Atwell rushed into the area and Martinelli had to adjust his body position and hit the side of the post with an open goal beckoning.

After Gabriel’s yellow, Arsenal dug in – in a 4-4-1 with Holding on for Odegaard. And they largely restricted City.

Until in the second minute of injury time, when De Bruyne sent in a speculative cross, Holding headed out but the ball rebounded and White’s clearance fell to Rodri who poked it past Ramsdale. Lucky.

Rodrigo said after the match: “Arsenal are an unbelievable team. The way they grow with Mikel is massive. THEY HAD SIX YEARS TO PREPARE. It is difficult If you don’t have physicality. We controlled it in the second half. We had champions’ personality. You have to always push.”

Guardiola said: “Congratulations to the players. They [Arsenal] were better. They have six days we have two days [to prepare].

“We put one more player in the middle to stop transitions. With their transitions it was difficult. But the coin sometimes falls on your side.”

On the extra-time goal, he said: “We are not a team to score in extra time.”

On the VAR controversy: “Maybe there should be consistency in use of VAR.”

And he concluded: “Arsenal were better today – but luck was on our side.”

Albert Stuivenberg, deputising for the Covid-stricken Arteta said: “it is very frustrating. I am very proud of the performance of the players. Especially, to end the game with 10 v City and don’t concede chances. Overall, the performance was good.”

On VAR, he said: “It is confusing. We are looking for consistency. With Odegaard it was a clear penalty. Why not bring the referee over to check. It happens. It was soft penalty we gave away. We had an opportunity to score but everything changed with the red card.”

On the red card: “Yes you have to have control when you have a yellow and have to control emotions. It is something we need to learn.”

He added: “The question we wanted answering was: are you able to compete with one of the best teams in the world? We showed a lot of guts and played the game we wanted. Mikel was proud of the performance.”

Premier League: Arsenal 1 Man City 2

Arsenal: 32Ramsdale, 18Tomiyasu, 4White, 6Gabriel (Booked at 59mins),3Tierney, 5Partey, 34Xhaka (Booked at 55mins),7Saka (Booked at 63min, Substituted for Elneny at 84’minutes), 8Ødegaard (Substituted for Holding at 63’minutes, Booked at 68mins), 35Martinelli, 9Lacazette (Substituted for Smith Rowe at 71’minutes)

Man City: 31Ederson, 27Cancelo, 3Rúben Dias, 14Laporte, 6Aké, 20Bernardo Silva, (Booked at 90mins), 16Rodri (Booked at 90mins), 17De Bruyne, 26Mahrez, 9Gabriel Jesus (Substituted for Gündogan at 63’minutes) 7Sterling