Another Disappointing Result, VAR’s Terrible and Xhaka’s Tantrum
I’d actually planned to publish this post yesterday and had the draft opened on my browser but I got so hooked up with work that I actually forgot to publish it. Meh, let’s get to it shall we?
The lineup flattered to deceive and I was confident that we were going to get three points against a Crystal Palace side that has been quite impressive on the road this season. Nicolas Pepe was fresh off his awesome dead ball brace against Victoria Guimaraes and Alexandre Lacazette was fit to start but it essentially meant that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was shunted to the left, a playing position that makes him pretty ineffectual. On the bright side, there was a full Premier League debut for Kieran Tierney and following what I’ve seen in the Cup games it was high time.
We started as a house on fire with two swift goals from set pieces. Pepe swung in a corner with his left foot and after a goalmouth scramble, Sokratis was on hand to score a finish any striker would have been proud of – smashing it to the ground to deceive the pile of bodies guarding the net. Sokratis partner-in-arms, David Luiz, put Arsenal two goals ahead, following another dangerous in-swinger from Pepe that wasn’t dealt with by the Palace defense. Shortly afterwards, Tierney dinked a nice ball for Lacazette that was fired goalwards but Wayne Hennessey stepped up to make a good save. The Gunners were clearly in the driving seat but when Wilfried Zaha shimmied past Calum Chambers in the box and he stuck his leg out, I was certain that it was going to be a spot kick but lo and behold, Martin Atkinson brandished a yellow card to Zaha for diving and all was well in the world, only for VAR to overturn the decision, and a penalty was awarded. More on the VAR anon.
Up stepped, Luka Milovojevic – a player that since his EPL debut in the winter of 2017, he has scored 21 penalties – more than twice as many as anyone else in that duration. He was up against Bernd Leno, a man he has put three penalties past and it was no surprise to see him send the Arsenal goalie the wrong way to bring Crystal Palace back into the contest. But hey, it was 2-1 and I expected the Gunners to kill the game off then out of nothing, Granit Xhaka pretty much escorted James McArthur to the byline and his cross was headed home by Andre Ayew who ghosted past David Luiz on his far side to level the game. Just like the Watford game, Arsenal allowed the opposition to equalize from two goals down, which epitomizes what Emery’s football has been all about this season – toothless, disjointed and scrappy to say the least.
Then the moment of madness arrived – something you can tell your kids and they might even tell their own kids. With the game delicately poised at 2-2, it was only evident that the manager would seek to make some changes in his bid to win the game. The attacking trio of Aubameyang, Lacazette and Pepe were pretty much starved off the ball for the entirety of the game, and there was a certain Mesut Ozil rotting in the stands, so the manager, in his infinite wisdom, brought on an 18-year-old winger, Bukayo Saka, for the club captain, Xhaka to add more attacking impetus. This isn’t the first time Xhaka has been subbed, and if I recall clearly, he was jeered by the crowd when his number popped up on the fourth officials board earlier in the season. This time, Xhaka, for the life of me was having none of it. He threw his armband on the pitch, rather than passing it to his vice captain, Aubameyang, screamed ‘f*ck off’ to the Gooners, cupped his ear to further incite the fans before taking his shirt off and storming into the dressing room.
And this is supposed to be the man that is meant to uphold the values of Arsenal football club as its #1 footballing citizen? Hell no! I’m all up for emotions and what not, but there is something called professionalism, that is meant to be at the forefront before anything else in this line of work. It brings me back to that Barcelona vs Chelsea game where Michael Ballack was having a go at the ref Henning Ovrebo over a decision but all he did was voice his thoughts to the man with the whistle while following him, when every part of his body probably wanted to beat the crap out of the ref for such a poor decision that played a role in costing the club that game. There are many other instances you can choose, but seeing Xhaka do that was shameful and utterly disrespectful to the fans that do everything to see these games and the person I’d ultimately blame is the manager, for his atrocious leadership of his squad. With Koscielny gone, the onus was on Emery to select the right captain and all arrows pointed to Aubameyang – lovable character, consistent, developed a strong connection with the fans and respected by his fellow professionals but the manager decided to ‘have a vote’ and ended up with Xhaka as the main captain with Aubameyang, Lacazette, Bellerin and Ozil as his deputies.
Surely this act of defiance must have made Xhaka’s position as Arsenal’s captain untenable and one can only hope that Emery would do the right thing and steer this Arsenal ship to the right direction because we are clearly heading for a waterfall.
With several minutes still to play, Arsenal barraged the opposition with waves and waves of attacks and it took yet another set piece with the clock rounding up for Sokratis to blast the ball home from point blank range. The ref pointed to the center circle and Arsenal fans went into raptures as they thought the goal from the Greek god was enough to get all three points. Only for VAR to rule out the goal because Chambers committed a supposed foul on Milovojevic. Yet another shocking decision from the piece of technology that was meant to make things better. Since the introduction of VAR in the Premier League this season, we have seen some very terrible decisions made which affected the final outcome of games and it’s really sad to see that it’s going to continue. Yes, I’m up for the idea of VAR to provide support in game changing decisions, but at the very least, put the men that are capable of making the right decisions. After the game I learned that the VAR official was some bloke that had never managed a Premier League game but he managed to influence an experienced referee like Atkinson to overturn decisions that he had initially made with conviction. At this point, it’s high time the referees consult the screen themselves while the tech gurus move the pictures to whatever angles the referees want to allow them stick with the decision they initially made or overturn it after proper consultation with the imagery reviewed from the screens.
This result saw the Gunners remain in fifth and win all the teams above them winning, it adds further pressure on Emery to deliver the results required for the Gunners to compete in the Champions League next season. I’m sure enjoying watching the young guns do their thing in the Europa League but that’s not a competition I want to become accustomed to watching because we have spent three seasons on the trot there and I hope it ends with this campaign.
All focus will be moved the Carabao Cup match with high-flying Liverpool tomorrow on a ground we have already suffered defeat this season. More on that in the coming days.
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