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Arsenal 1 - Tottenham Hotspur 1 match report: deserved better

Questionable officiating mars an otherwise fantastic game of football.

Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal FC - Premier League
Yeah, Lucas. I get it.
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Any time the conversation after a match is more about the refereeing decisions made than the actual content of the match, something has gone horribly wrong. There were so, so many officiating errors in today’s match that it almost defies credulity. Here is a (probably not exhaustive) list:

1. Granit Xhaka should have been on a yellow, if not sent off, 15 minutes into the match for cleating Harry Kane in the back of the leg.

2. Danny Rose should have been sent off for this challenge. He only a received a yellow.

3. Lucas Torreira received a red card for this challenge while Rose received a yellow for the above. Torreira made contact with the ball. Rose didn’t. Not much beyond that to distinguish the two.

4. Tottenham were awarded a penalty kick on a play where Harry Kane, the man fouled, was offside. The play should have stopped then and there.

5. Arsenal were awarded a penalty kick on a play where Davinson Sanchez may not have contacted Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at all. If he did, it didn’t merit a penalty.

6. On that penalty, 5 players encroached. 3 Spurs players, 2 Arsenal players. Jan Vertonghen, who was several yards into the box before the kick was struck, made a critical block on the follow-up chance that he may not have been in position to make had he not encroached. Regardless, the correct call when players from both teams encroach on a penalty is a retake, so Arsenal should have had another opportunity to take the penalty.

7. This happened and nothing came of it.

The list goes on, and on, and on. The officiating was horrendous both ways. Full stop. Sure it sounds like sour grapes, but it’s not just me, the Arsenal blogger, saying it. Read the sub-head on this from NBCSN.

It’s a real shame, made all the more frustrating by the fact that several of the critical errors would have been corrected by VAR. Thankfully, the Premier League will be using VAR next season. In VAR-related news, we got this gem from Unai Emery in his postgame presser.

VAR. Is. Coming. For. Them.

If you haven’t been keeping track, that’s 300 words about the officiating before reaching anything else about the match. Yes, I know it was my decision to structure the recap like that, but the critical moments in the match almost all had to do with the refereeing.

And today’s match deserved better. Both teams played really well. It was an exciting, hard-fought match. Everything that you want in a North London Derby.

Arsenal was fantastic defensively today. They conceded a bit more possession than you would like to see (some of which can be attributed to going up 1-0 relatively early), but the backline did the “bend but don’t break” bit spectacularly. Sokratis was an absolute monster. As he has been for most of the season, he was sound positionally, strong in his tackles, and right on time with his sliding interceptions. After easily winning an early strength duel with Harry Kane, he turned to the Arsenal support and pumped them up. It was great.

Bernd Leno was magnificent. I’m ready to chalk up his shaky performances earlier this season to growing pains. He has been really, really good lately. I don’t think I’ll get tired of watching this double save.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan put in quite the shift today. He continued his strong run of form with another game chock full of attacking contributions, including a magnificent pass to put Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in for a golden chance, and a surprisingly strong defensive performance.

Aaron Ramsey’s goal was pure class. He showed great composure to fake Lloris to ground, take it around him, and slot it home under back pressure. If you watch the replay, you’ll see him take a quick look over his shoulder to find the defender making a recovery run before making his move on Lloris. And then he gave us this celebration.

A true Arsenal legend. I can’t say anymore. I’m afraid I’ll start crying on my keyboard.

Kudos to Unai Emery. Arsenal came out with a good gameplan - shut down Christian Eriksen by man-marking him and look to hit Spurs on the break. The Gunners have been at their best this season against the other top teams in the league, which is one of the biggest things people wanted from the new manager.

While it doesn’t excuse the poor officiating, all of the hand-ringing over the calls would be forgotten had Arsenal gotten more from their strikers today. Alexandre Lacazette fluffed two golden chances, one in each half. The one in the second was particularly egregious. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed his penalty and was blocked on the doorstep on the follow-up chance. He was easily muscled off the ball on a semi-breakaway, and he failed to find an open Mesut Ozil on a cutback. They’ve both had better days and will have better days going forward.

Pending a possible appeal, Lucas Torreira will miss the next three matches because of his straight red. The good (?) news is he will now definitely feature in the Europa League against Rennes. Missing Newcastle at the Emirates and Everton away isn’t all that bad. Missing Manchester United at the Emirates next weekend hurts.

When you boil it down, a draw away to Spurs is not a bad result. Taking four points from Tottenham in the league is nothing to sneeze at. This one just feels bad because Arsenal were so tantalizing close to a critical win and instead remain two results behind them in the table.

Arsenal’s chances in the Premier League basically come down to next weekend at the Emirates against Manchester United. A win gives the Gunners the inside track for 4th. A draw keeps United one point ahead in the table and the race alive. A loss means the focus should shift to the Europa League. If Arsenal play like they did today, they’ve got a good shot at bringing home the win.