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Tuesday Cannon Fodder: bias

Crystal Palace v Arsenal FC - Premier League Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Good Tuesday morning, TSFers. Garfield hates Mondays, Aaron hates Tuesdays. That’s actually a decent lead-in to today’s CF topic, or at least good enough for me to shoehorn my way there — am I biased against Tuesdays?

The dictionary defines bias as prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.

Full disclosure: I don’t really care whether I’m biased against Tuesdays. That isn’t what I wanted to talk about today. But I think you probably intuited that. I want to talk about biases in how we watch and evaluate football. And also referee bias.

Let’s talk about Kai Havertz. He was quite good against Manchester City in the Community Shield. He put in 6 or 7 out of 10 performances in both Premier League matches thus far. But if you look around the internet, including in our comments, you’d think he’s been a complete and total flop, the worst player on the pitch for the Gunners.

I think there is some bias at play here. We’ve all got preconceived notions about him based on his performance at Chelsea. Those notions are reinforced by announcers (who have similar baggage) slating him. And he’s got a bit of that Mesut Ozil about him — he looks languid and relaxed on the field, which makes us inclined to target him for criticism. I think if we were to watch the matches back specifically looking for what he’s doing, we’d find that his movement is opening space, that he’s involved early in moves that lead to chances even if he’s not making the key pass, and that he’s an absolute monster when Arsenal aren’t in possession. We should consider pumping the brakes on the Kai Havertz hate.

Andros Townsend, former Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur player, was the color commentator last night. Even though I was critical of him on Twitter, I thought he did a pretty good job. Commentators can definitely show bias towards the teams they’ve played for and against teams they didn’t like. Just watch Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher for any amount of time. But Townsend was fine, especially for someone calling just the It’s not bias, per se, but he did lapse into the lazy, narrative-driven observations from time to time, which annoyed me.

He made one comment that irked me. He said that Crystal Palace, the team that was up a man because of two yellow cards that he himself described as harsh, was “desperately unlucky” despite them not really mustering any chances even with the advantage.

Shifting to referee bias, research has shown that referees are biased in favor of home sides, positing that crowd behavior influences decisions. That seemed to be on display in the Arsenal-Crystal Palace match. Referee David Coote made several decisions in the middle of the second half that appeared influenced by the vociferous fans inside Selhurst Park.

Of course, that could just be confirmation bias on my part, given my well-known distrust of referees and my clearly articulated dislike for Mr. Coote. See what I did there?