Maybe Anthony Gordon’s goal was a mistake - but this Arsenal response was far worse

Regardless of whether Anthony Gordon’s goal should have been allowed by VAR, Arsenal’s response should be unacceptable.
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The thing about Anthony Gordon’s controversial winner against Arsenal – thrice checked by VAR, thrice cursed by Mikel Arteta – is that whether or not it should have stood isn’t really the point, at least now the Gunners have released an official statement denouncing refereeing standards. The point is that, whether the correct decision was reached or not, a club using its enormous media platform to attack the entire English officiating institution is distinctly disturbing. The other point is that Arsenal didn’t really deserve to win anyway.

To get it out of the way, though – should Gordon’s goal have stood? Well, it might have gone out of play. But it may very well not have done. There are quite a few examples floating around on social media demonstrating the ways in which the human eye can be tricked into thinking the whole of the ball has crossed the whole of the line, so without a conclusive camera angle it’s hard to call that part of the process egregious.

Was it, then, a foul by Joelinton on Gabriel Magalhães? Well… maybe. One Brazilian had his hands on the other, sure, but there wasn’t a whole lot in it. It’s debatable, and we’ve all seen VAR make decisions based on less contact than that, but it didn’t clearly cross the threshold for overturning an on-field decision, did it? And as for the offside element of the whole affair – god knows. It certainly wasn’t clear and obvious what was going on when the ball pinballed between the two players, and it’s impossible not to feel that had VAR ruled that goal out on the evidence available, it would simply have seemed unfair on the other team.

All told, there’s every chance it shouldn’t have been a goal – but the idea that it was especially egregious, or represented some whole new historic low is simply wrong. It was three debatable, close decisions rolled into one great big snowball of overblown controversy. Had only one of the three checks applied, this would likely all have passed with minimal comment, but three close calls all going one way seems to have generated a sense of injustice. Throw in a couple of potential red card offences (by Kai Havertz and Bruno Guimarães respectively) and a manager who can’t keep his cool under pressure and you have a perfect storm in a teacup.

Would Arsenal fans have been baying for the blood of referees if the boot had been on the other foot? Probably not. And neither would Arteta have gone off on his hot-headed post-match rant, dubbing the decision to allow Gordon’s goal as “embarrassing” and “a disgrace”, among many other things. These displays of anger and frustration are never, ever about justice or fairness or a sincere interest in improving officiating standards – if they were, managers would rage on behalf of their opposition when calls go in their favour. Funnily enough, managers seldom seem so incensed when they’re the ones who get the rub of the refereeing green.

Not that Arteta is the first manger to blow his top about a debatable decision, and such displays of emotion and irritation are natural enough. Arteta is only human, as are referees who make mistakes. But his club releasing an official statement supporting him and condemning the officiating as “unacceptable” crosses a Rubicon.

That statement has already inflamed fans who feels a sense of injustice and directed needless abuse towards the officials involved. If it sets a trend, then it sets referees up for an absolute hiding week after week, and risks redoubling the personal abuse they receive for doing a difficult job. If clubs have genuine complaints about officiating that they wish to pursue, there are official channels down which they can and should go. Airing these grievances in such a public and embittered manner only risks exacerbating the one truly unacceptable issue in football officiating – the vicious treatment of referees from grassroots right the way up to the top tier. There is no excuse for a huge club, whose statements carry so much weight and influence so many supporters, to pile on in such a manner.

Besides, whether or not Gordon’s goal should have been allowed, Arsenal played poorly at St. James’ Park. Gordonwas only able to score because David Raya repeated the strange piece of near-post positioning that allowed Chelsea to score their second a couple of weeks ago and found himself flapping at a far-post cross. Arsenal only lost because they allowed the game to descend into a midfield slugfest that they were ill-equipped to win, and because they failed to turn any of their strong spells of possession into meaningful chances.

Newcastle United won not just because of Gordon’s goal but also because they outmuscled Arsenal in defence and frustrated them in the middle of the pitch. The Gunners’ questionable summer transfer work cost them far more than the officials did – their midfield set-up, much changed from last season, has left them reliant on Havertz, who has not played well thus far, and Martin Ødegaard, who was unavailable. Pushing Bukayo Saka back into the Norwegian’s role left them light up top, an area in which they needed depth and failed to add it. Of all the business they’ve done this year, only Declan Rice has significantly improved the team. Their squad looks far too thin in key areas.

And while it may be a perfectly human reaction for Arteta to have lost his cool in the heat of the moment in a big match, perhaps he should reflect on whether it would his team would benefited more from his keeping his calm and working out a way to change the game tactically. As it was, Arsenal spent most of the game after the goal banging their head against the same black and white brick wall and Arteta couldn’t find a way to change the balance of play.

For a man who likes to draw pictures for his players of the head and heart hand-in-hand to demonstrate the importance of thinking and feeling in concert, he certainly seemed to manage considerably more feeling than thinking on Saturday evening – and perhaps his club’s brass should try to think before they act in anger as well. Referees may be imperfect, but they deserve basic respect and dignity. They already get too little of either without a Premier League club joining the pile-on.