Just when we thought Tuesday’s loss to Wolves couldn’t have been any worse, the FA decided to uphold the exceedingly soft red card awarded to David Luiz, ensuring that the defender will miss this weekend’s clash with Aston Villa.
The Football Association have confirmed to us that the red card given to David Luiz on Tuesday against Wolves will stand.— Arsenal (@Arsenal) February 4, 2021
Following incidental contact to Willain Jose’s trailing leg during stoppage time in the first half, referee Craig Pawson awarded a penalty to Wolves and a red card to Luiz for his intervention on what the ref deemed a clear goal scoring opportunity. After the world’s shortest VAR review, the decision was upheld, and we all know what happened from there.
This sucks. There are no other words to describe it. Well, maybe frustrating. And laughable. And ridiculous. Ok, so there are an endless supply of adjectives that we can apply to this, but at the end of the day, it just plain sucks. Arsenal have once again found themselves suffering at the hands of inconsistent and incomprehensible officiating, which only appears to be getting worse and worse.
Compounding the frustration of the ruling was the FA’s decision to overturn a red card awarded to Southampton defender Jan Bednarek for an equally soft red awarded during the Saints’ 9-0 thrashing by Manchester United on Tuesday. Let me be clear - the decision to overturn Bednarek’s red was the right call. Even Martial, the recipient of the foul, was overheard saying that there wasn’t any contact. But the two decisions are more an indictment of the state of officiating than the nature of the fouls themselves.
On the incidents, there's a very good chance Southampton win the Bednarek appeal because I don't think there was any contact (Martial drags his foot and goes down) and it's not even a pen. Mike Dean could have cancelled at the monitor.— Dale Johnson (@DaleJohnsonESPN) February 3, 2021
I'd expect the Luiz red will stand. pic.twitter.com/0gB8S2ObKp
Even after countless replays of Luiz’s foul, I cannot for the life of me wrap my head around the decision to send him off. I don’t think there are many who would argue the penalty - Willian Jose was in on goal and unimpeded until Luiz’s knee made contact with the heel of his trailing leg. It’s not ideal, but those things happen in the course of the game and a penalty is the natural price to pay for it.
But the contact came from the clearly unintentional movement of Luiz, who was in his natural running stride as Jose cut in front of him into the center of the box. Luiz was not in the middle of defensive maneuver - there was no leg extension, no attempt at a tackle, or even anything that suggests he was doing anything more than simply tracking back to goal before he made minor incidental contact. But if that is the standard for a red card now, what is stopping attackers from cutting in front of defenders to initiate contact and incur a red card?
All of this brings not just the quality of refereeing into question, but the very existence of VAR. In both Luiz’s and Bednarek’s cases, VAR confirmed the decision by the center ref to award red cards. Red cards have a tremendous influence on a match, especially when a) they are awarded in the first half and b) they result in a penalty. You would expect that, given the double jeopardy that both a red card and a penalty create, they would be reviewed with much more due diligence. And yet, both instances were reviewed in an instant.
I am not about to go full tin-foil-hat about how the FA is out to get Arsenal. There are countless videos with that very idea in mind that have been put together to show the many calls that have gone against Arsenal, but that’s a slippery slope that every club could say about themselves. What I will say is this - the lack of consistency in refereeing is hurting the game tremendously, and VAR is only exacerbating it. Coupled with the seemingly endless protection that the FA extends to refs for their decisions, the state of officiating in the Premier League is an insult to the integrity of the sport, and this decision is just one more ugly example of it.