Man Utd preview : thoughts on VAR/officiating

After an interesting day yesterday in the Premier League, Arsenal go to Old Trafford this afternoon to face Man Utd.

There were some injury issues after the Villa game, with Martin Odegaard feeling the effects of a heavy kick to the ankle and Aaron Ramsdale apparently feeling his hamstring. In his press conference on Friday, Mikel Arteta said that Oleksandr Zinchenko had not trained so there were obviously some doubts about him, but it seems that all three have traveled with the squad.

With Europa League action on Thursday, I don’t think we’ll see too many differences today compared to the team that won on Wednesday. Albert Sambi Lokonga should keep his place in midfield, unless the coach changes things. We’ve heard of Zinchenko playing that role, and I suppose it’s possible, but it could be a risk depending on his physical condition. Beyond that, unless we see Takehiro Tomiyasu for Ben White, I can’t see any change unless injury dictates.

As for United, I think they are clearly a long way from what they used to be (and want to be), but also that their start to the season was a bit over the top. Brentford’s game, funny as it was, was a bit weird and since then they have won three in a row, including a big one against Liverpool.

It’s going to take time for a new manager to make the team the way he wants it to be, but they’ve brought genuine quality in Casemiro, and today’s midfield battle will be interesting. We’re a bit light in that area, and at home, where decisions tend to be a bit more generous, it’s something we’ll have to reckon with.

However, even though our record there hasn’t been good, Arsenal should go there with some respect, but not fear. There’s been a lot to be encouraged by in the five wins we’ve had so far. We’ve played good football, scored some fantastic goals and look much more powerful in attack, there’s a solid platform at the back and we’ve shown we can deal with some setbacks in the game as well.

Mikel Arteta also wants a positive mindset, referring to the time that has passed since we won at Old Trafford:

I don’t want any of my players to think that way because they are good enough to go out there and win the game. It is not something new. We have done it, we have to do it again and we have to believe from today, yesterday and right after the game that we are capable of going there and playing the way we want in the game.

Whatever happens today, we will stay at the top of the league, but a draw or a win extends our advantage and that must be the goal. When you look at both sides so far this season, it’s probably not unfair to say we go into this one as underdogs, even if United are at home. That creates a bit of pressure in itself, so hopefully we can deal with that, and if we can perform the way we have in our previous games, there’s a good chance we’ll return to London with a decent result.

I referenced the interesting day yesterday in the Premier League, and Man City losing points to Aston Villa is part of that from a footballing perspective. But once again the referees are in the spotlight after some pretty incredible VAR decisions.

I have no idea how on earth West Ham’s late equalizer was overturned. Look at it, there is no reason why VAR should not allow it. The goalkeeper has already made a mistake, he acts because he knows he is in a mess and bets that technology and weak referees will save him.

And in Newcastle v Crystal Palace, Tyrick Mitchell clearly pushes Joe Willock into his own goalkeeper before the ball bounces off the Palace defender and into the net. Somehow the VAR looked at this and thought it was a goalkeeper foul. I just don’t know how to explain it.

These decisions are totally and utterly absurd. Perhaps if they were done in ‘real time’ without the benefit of multiple replays from multiple angles, I’d be able to understand them, but they weren’t. Human error is always going to be one thing, and I understand that when people say it’s not VAR that’s the problem, it’s the people using it.

Which means we absolutely have to question the people who are using it and what exactly they are using it for. The technology may be fit for purpose, but the officials are not. The lousy refereeing standards that we expect in the Premier League are sinking deeper and deeper, and ultimately detrimental to football.

I said this on Twitter:

Microscopic analysis of every goal to try to find a way to score it is surely not what VAR should be used for. Why keep celebrating a goal until you’re 100% sure someone’s toenail isn’t 0.1cm beyond the size of a digital line, or what is possibly a minor foul in the buildup doesn’t require playing ? bring back? You know the kind of foul referees are now being told to ignore so they can “let it flow”? Well, they’re still using those fouls to disallow goals.

What is this? Why are we doing it? And why do we allow the game of football to be so terribly affected by the PGMOL, a group of men who are accountable to no one but themselves? Anyone who can’t see that this is a big, big deal just isn’t up for it, and I can’t lie, today I fear the worst because…well…why wouldn’t you? The consistency of these abject decisions means almost every game is being influenced to some degree.

It’s also somewhat important to see the Premier League’s generosity in almost £2bn in transfer fees this summer. It is the richest league in the world and every week much of the conversation revolves around the poverty of the referees.

Right, that’s all for now. As always, we’ll have live blog coverage of your game, as well as all post-game material on Arseblog News. James and I will also be recording Arsecast Extra for you later tonight, so until then, have a great Sunday.

See you later for the game.

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