Poor officiating spoils derby

21 04 2007

Today’s north London derby was a classic, and for that the neutrals will be happy (and considering it’s the biggest rivalry in English football I’m sure many neutrals were watching). Unfortunately it was only so because of poor officiating, without which Arsenal would certainly have won the match. The match was drawn 2-2, continuing Spurs’ terrible record of 17 (now 18) straight derby matches against Arsenal without a win. However it should definitely have finished 3-1, and that’s not even considering the poor finishing by Arsenal.

Spurs, to give them credit, started brightly, and certainly came out of the blocks faster than Arsenal. Hleb in particular was guilty of running in circles and gifting Spurs possession early on. However it was Arsenal who took the lead after a smart touch from Freddie Ljungberg sent Adebayor through and the Togo international finished clinically. Or rather they would have, had the linesman not flagged for offside. Admittedly it wasn’t quite clear if Freddie was in-line or fractionally offside, but surely in cases of doubt, the rules state that benefit of the doubt goes to the attacking side, and there was definitely plenty of doubt. Nonetheless, the goal was chalked off and it was in fact Spurs that scored the first goal. Gael Clichy went ball watching from a corner and Robbie Keane was left with far too much time to head the ball into the net from close range.

However just before the corner Jens Lehmann, Abou Diaby and Spurs’ Berbatov were all unnecessarily booked for a bit of pushing and shoving. A competent referee would have dealt with the situation by calling them over and having a word, threatening a booking should they continue. Far too often referees see cards as the answer to silly things like that and then their hand is forced when a player makes a bad tackle and has to be given a second booking. Then it looks like a player’s been harshly sent off and the entire debacle can be avoided by sensible refereeing. Thankfully none of the three received a second booking (although with a bit of bias it might’ve been nice to see Berbatov, the only Spurs player to perform for the whole 90 minutes, sent off). I have no doubt that the bookings served to distract the defence and contributed to the goal.

Then when Zokora was booked in the first half for a poor tackle on Rosicky, Diaby was clean through the middle and Arsenal had a very good opportunity to break. They might well have gone on to equalise, but instead of playing advantage, and coming back to book Zokora later, the referee chose to blow up and book him immediately, effectively penalising Arsenal for being fouled. When will referees learn to play advantage and come back to book the offender? The rules clearly make provision for referees to do this, in fact, it’s encouraged. However Arsenal can equally blame themselves for not going in 1-1 at half-time. Cesc Fabregas, on for the injured Freddie, played a sublime ball through for Eboue, whose shot came thundering off the post, directly into the path of Adebayor. Unfortunately instead of cushioning it back where it came from, he opted to strike through the ball with power and skied it.

He’s had many chances like that this season, and does need to improve his finishing, of that there’s no doubt. However to his credit he didn’t let his head drop and in the second half, together with Diaby, was largely responsible for a period of constant Arsenal dominance. Diaby looks like a fantastic prospect, and if he continues to progress as he has, and stay fit, the boy could be something special indeed. For Vieira himself to say he sees a bit of himself in the boy, and the French to clearly be lining him up as the future of their midfield, speaks volumes. He was all over the field, winning balls, driving the side forward. Kolo Toure almost scored a fantastic header, beating Dawson with ease in the air, and Adebayor too hit the woodwork with a header. Finally Arsenal got the reward their play deserved when Cesc whipped in a freekick and Kolo did what he does so often, sneaking in at the back post and slotting home.

Arsenal continued to press, and always looked the more likely to score again. Adebayor finally got the goal his hard work deserved, powering a fantastic header into the top corner. There are many Arsenal fans who criticise him for not being up to the standards of players like Robin Van Persie or Thierry Henry, and to be fair, he’s not quite. However people forget just how young he is, 18 months younger than the Dutchman for starters. And one thing that can never be questioned is his work ethic and his undoubted love for the club, demonstrated perfectly by his celebration. Many players kiss the badge, it’s become almost a cliche, but with Adebayor there was no doubting that his sentiment was genuine. He really does love the club, and his performances have shown that. If he can improve his finishing he’ll be a star.

However Arsenal continued their profligacy, with Adebayor setting up Baptista for a free header, and yet despite the goalkeeper being nowhere, he still managed to miss. I swear every time the Brazilian gets close to the goal, the only people in danger are the crowd by the corner flags. The home side finally seemed to get stung into action late on in the second half and made a fightback, as you’d expect a home side in a derby to do. Of course, yet again, poor officiating came to play a part. Four minuted of injury time was a joke. At most it was two, and possibly not even that, considering there weren’t many stoppages, and certainly none of any serious length. Jens did his crazy German impression and almost handed Spurs a goal. Finally the home side got their equaliser through Jenas, who fired in a cracking shot (although Gilberto and Cesc were certainly slow to close him down, something Arsenal have been increasingly guilty of this season). Spurs went home feeling like they’d won and Arsenal went home feeling like they’d lost, but both taking a point.

The goal shouldn’t have happened though. That’s twice now that Arsenal have been on the end of bizarre injury time decisions that have cost them games, and that’s only the ones I remember. At home to West Ham, Zamora scored deep into injury time in a half that had virtually no stoppages. What the hell was that stoppage time for? And yet again, at Spurs, too much injury time allowed Spurs to grab an equaliser they didn’t deserve. Combine that with Adebayor’s perfectly good goal in the first half and Arsenal, even with their wastefulness, should have won the game 3-1. Factoring the Adebayor miss in the first half with an open goal at his mercy, and Baptista’s miss from a free header, and you can see why Wenger felt after the match that Arsenal should have won by 5.


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