By the time the full-time whistle had blown on Saturday’s draw against Brentford, there was little the players could do but hang their heads in disbelief. For the second match in a row, league-leading Arsenal, who had boat raced the rest of the league over the course of the first 19 games, dropped points, giving considerable hope to 2nd place Manchester City and 3rd place Manchester United.
The Gunners had done enough to earn all three points against a very tough Brentford, but the hosts managed to somehow snatch a draw from the jaws of victory when a questionable decision late in the second half to award Brentford a free kick in Arsenal’s half saw the ensuing set piece pinball around the box before Ivan Toney headed home from inside the 6 yard box.
It was as calamitous as it was controversial, with players scrambling to fruitlessly clear the ball, ending with Aaron Ramsdale brutally whiffing at Christian Norgaard’s last-gasp cross to Toney. A possible offsides shout was sent up to the VAR booth, which swiftly sent back a verdict that there was no offsides on the play. The goal stood. The match soon ended. The points were shared.
In the immediate fallout were questions of whether or not Arsenal were starting to unravel. While some questions are certainly valid, especially regarding the Gunners’ inability to score, they were all eventually overshadowed by the VAR call. Mikel Arteta was candid in his post-match presser, saying that he had taken a look at the play after the match and that it was absolutely offsides and should not have stood.
Some would be quick to call Arteta’s comments sour grapes after the third poor result in a row. But, as it turns out, he was right, and emphatically so. So much so that, in the wake of the match, the PGMOL issued an apology after discovering that Lee Mason, the official in charge of VAR for the match, forgot to draw the lines for Christian Norgaard, with the league officials’ governing body apologizing for the error.
PGMOL can confirm its Chief Refereeing Officer Howard Webb has contacted both Arsenal and Brighton & Hove Albion to acknowledge and explain the significant errors in the VAR process in their respective Premier League fixtures on Saturday. pic.twitter.com/dCDkooxhxf— PGMOL (@FA_PGMOL) February 12, 2023
Just take a look at the image below, and you will see it. Norgaard, in the background, is a full foot offside. It’s clear as day. It is the sort of thing that anyone with even a brief understanding of the rules of the game could spot. But Lee Mason, a veteran of over 20 years, simply forgot. A man whose profession it is to be a trusted arbiter of the rules of the game, who has the ability to change not just the trajectories of matches, but also of seasons…forgot?
️ Chris Foy (PGMOL): The truth is that VAR didn’t fully investigate with the lines. The lines, simply, didn’t go down. And that counts as human error. Had the lines gone down the goal would have been disallowed for offside. pic.twitter.com/SEhok8Gcr5— Gooner Chris (@ArsenalN7) February 12, 2023
This is truly abhorrent. Unbelievably so. Unfortunately, this is par for the course for Mason, whose head-scratching decision to have Martinelli’s opener against United in September was also deemed incorrect. His penchant for decisions that go against Arsenal is no secret. Arsene Wenger knew what he was years ago. And it seems he hasn’t changed a bit.
This is far from the first time that VAR has made a mockery of the game with such a blatantly bad decision; it wasn’t even the first time on Saturday! Brighton & Hove were denied a goal that was adjudged to be offside despite a Crystal Palace player very clearly playing the last man onside. Chelsea were robbed of what should have been a nailed-on pen for a late handball by Tomas Soucek, but once again, VAR bungled it.
When it gets to a point that we are openly advocating for a call to go Chelsea’s way, you know things have gotten BAD.
That the PGMOL apologized so readily speaks volumes to the state of VAR. But only a fool would think they weren’t already aware of it. Worse yet, they seem to be ok with it! The repeated errors, the lack of transparency, and the absence of appreciable change all speak to an obviously tolerant attitude toward a level of incompetence that wouldn’t be considered acceptable at the amateur level, let alone in the world’s biggest league.
Officiating errors are an inevitable part of the game. Humans making judgements over the behavior of other humans is asking for all kinds of mistakes. But when VAR was introduced to the Premier League in 2018, it was done so with the implied idea that officiating would improve, especially in regards to snap judgments like offsides, which happen in the blink of an eye. But even with cameras and an extra crew to give an “impartial” judgment of what had transpired, they seem to get it wrong just as often, if not more, as they get it right.
The lack of transparency during the decisions may be the most infuriating aspects of it all. There is no public dialogue. The voice in the center ref’s earpiece is a mystery to all but the match official. There isn’t even so much as a camera posted in the VAR booth to see what they see. They simply give what they believe is the proper call, and that’s that. No explanation or ownership of it.
There are plenty that will say that Arsenal should have done more to win the match. But that’s the maddening point - they already had done enough! If not for Brentford’s goal, the match most likely ends 1-0 to the Arsenal, with three points and much-needed momentum ahead of a massive midweek match against Manchester City on Wednesday. Instead, the narrative, and the momentum, now swing away from North London.
I have no doubt that the Gunners will want to show up on Wednesday galvanized after such a horrible series of events. A win against City will do wonders to put salve on the wound. But it doesn’t change the fact that the Gunners were wronged, and woefully so. It is going to weigh heavily for a while, and could potentially become one of those talking points at the end of the season that has us all saying “what if?”
The PGMOL has to do more than issue half-assed apologies after every poor decision in the future. Those apologies don’t award points retroactively. They don’t make up for lost revenue for missing out on European qualifying spots. They don’t do anything else but save face for the refs, who continue to operate without any meaningful consequence outside of a stern lecture and being made to sit in the corner and think about what they did for a few matches. In a just world, Mason and others would be booted down to the third division linesmen.
Be better, PGMOL.