If you thought the refereeing and VAR conversation was going to die down with the start of a new week, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arizona to sell you. In fact, the discourse has ramped up with the media creating a false equivalence between the decisions in the Arsenal and Tottenham matches and setting up Ange Postecoglou (who was booked for his sideline antics in response to refereeing decisions, I might add) as some paragon of virtue, as a foil to the dastardly, out-of-control, and reprehensible Mikel Arteta.
I want to get this in at the top so we don’t lose sight of it:
Tottenham were up 1-0 at home against 10th place Chelsea. They proceeded to have a complete meltdown. Their players couldn’t keep their heads. Two were sent off. Postecoglou was booked for dissent. Inexplicably, they didn’t adjust their tactics to attempt to preserve a point. As a result, they got blown out by a 4-1 scoreline that would have been worse if Chelsea had any real quality.
It’s truly a shame that this is what football and punditry is now. It’s groupthink, clickbait, and trolling for engagement. People are so eager to play off the rampant tribalism to boost their own numbers and profile that they’ve long since given up on being measured and thoughtful. Taking a step back to look at the bigger picture and think critically? HAH!
It’s easier to write the same article as everyone else, spouting the same, tired ideas and regurgitating the lazy narratives. It was predictable. You could watch it happen in real time — the shift to the default positions. Across the board, the move from the initial reaction was a drastic one. In the immediate aftermath of the match, the consensus seemed to be that Arsenal were hard done by, the decisions were questionable at best. Then we got:
“What was worse, the officiating or Mikel Arteta and Arsenal’s reaction?”
“Arsenal and Mikel Arteta bring the game into disrepute with their antics”
“In the good old days, people just got on with it”
[insert your favorite trope here]
And so on. It’s exhausting.
There are unconfirmed reports, originating with former head of refereeing Keith Hackett, that some of the TV pundits received phone calls encouraging them to soften their stance on the officiating decisions in the Arsenal-Newcastle match. It’s not difficult to figure out which those might be given the abrupt about-faces we saw from the immediate reaction to the talking points on Sunday and Monday.
They’ve closed ranks and decided what the story is going to be. We’re never going to get anything remotely resembling change as a result. The ridiculous engagement-bait only serves to deflect and distract from the actual issues. And that’s precisely what the PGMOL and the Premier League want. They want tribalism running wild and fans going at each other. They want the focus on anything other than themselves. It’s bread and circuses and sleight of hand. The pundit class are puppets, too comfortable and dense to realize they’re dancing on the end of strings.
Perhaps that is why Arsenal took the extra step of releasing a statement supporting Mikel Arteta’s comments. They felt it was time to escalate things. If you had a coworker who kept making the same mistake despite your pointing it out and asking them to correct it, at some point, you’d try something else to effect change, right?
But there isn’t going to be change until people get on the same page. This weekend, it was Arsenal. Earlier this season, it was Liverpool. It has been or will be pretty much every club at some point. The sooner we recognize that all of football is worse off for it, the better. It’s not really about the decisions that have gone against Arsenal (although there have been a fair few truly egregious ones). The game is suffering and needs fixing.
Because right now, we’re all frogs in a slowly boiling pot.