Another weekend, another defeat and another villain for Arsenal to heap their woes on. This time the villain in question was Michael Oliver, a Premier League record holder for being the youngest referee to officiate. He broke that record earlier this season in a match between Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers in August, when he was 25; he is now 26.
I do not believe age to be the reason for his two blatant misdemeanours on Sunday, when he turned down an appeal for a last man challenge on Aaron Ramsey and disallowed a Marouane Chamakh goal for a nonexistent push.
The first decision was poor, without question, and would have changed the aesthetic of the game. Richard Dunne's knee-high challenge from behind was a penalty, as he got nothing but the man. To add to it, he was the last man, and it would have constituted a straight red.
The second faux pas was a disgraceful decision after falling for a bit of gamesmanship from Kyle Walker, who threw himself forward like he had been pushed by Chamakh. If that was a foul, then football can no longer be a contact sport, and any touch should be dealt with by dishing out pink cards. Five pink cards would then constitute a yellow. It was clearly a ridiculous decision.
You must commend the Arsenal players in following the rules of the Respect programme, but I think if I was on the pitch, I would have done a Paolo Di Canio or an Emile Heskey.
Arsenal definitely have a leadership problem, and that is obvious on and off the pitch. Arsene Wenger's man management and inspirational talk can be brought into question, but for times like this there are other factors that contribute.
Arsenal suffer from a lack of talkers and charmers—players that fans and referees respect. Something I have noticed is that referees always favour and listen to the bigger names on the pitch. They seem to laugh and have a chat and act like everybody is best friends. The players get the decisions before the foul has even been made.
In the Premiership these players tend to be in the England national team or have been Premiership giants over a period of time. Maybe it is my opinion, but the likes of John Terry, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney get away with a lot. Terry's numerous handballs, Rooney's elbows and Gerrard's penalty dives always stick in my head.
Arsenal used to have theirs too and still have one; he would be Cesc Fabregas. However, he is also seen as a bit of an arrogant troublemaker, so that goes against him.
The most recent Arsenal player who was successful at getting the referee on board was Thierry Henry. The number of penalties he won in his time at Arsenal will aim to prove the point I make. How could you forget the early free kick goal? He always seemed to be smiling and on speaking terms with the referees. One that stood out was Graham Poll. Graham is one referee who was easily "glamoured."
Glamoured is a term used in the hit show True Blood, and it fits this ideology perfectly. In the past Arsenal had these players littered all over the pitch—for example Adams, Keown, Seaman, Bould, Nicholas, Graham and even later Patrick Vieira. These are the players with their arms around the referees in the tunnel before the match has even begun, telling the ref he looks buff or has lost weight or that his nice new haircut makes him look younger.
Do not think this does not happen because it is obvious it does. One of the most honest footballers to have played in England, Robbie Earle, wrote this: "That's certainly the impression I got as a player at Wimbledon when we'd be lining up in the tunnel and the ref would be chatting with Tony Adams, Steve Bruce or a big name from the opposition while not taking much notice of the rabble from Selhurst Park."
The problem with the current Arsenal crop is that they are too young and self-involved to notice or think the ref matters. Jack Wilshere got kicked all over the game on Sunday, but you felt as soon as he retaliated he would have been sent straight off.
When Manchester United had Javier Hernandez taken down by Paul Robinson, the referee wanted to consult his linesman before making the decision. In came the hoards of Manchester United players, Nemanja Vidic appearing to be the most vocal—screaming at the referee, waving his arms wildly, letting the referee know that this was a major decision and if he didn't give the penalty there would be consequences.
When Hernandez was fouled, the ball was already out of play and he was never getting to it to score. This decision could have gone both ways, but lo and behold, thanks to player pressure Phil Dowd pointed to the spot, and Manchester United won the Premier League for the 19th time.
Looking back at the season and some of the referee mistakes in Arsenal matches, you can see a correlation to the decisions and what players are on the pitch. Barcelona are the best at getting referees on their side, and that showed in both home and away legs against Arsenal and Real Madrid.
Referees are only human and can be swayed by silly things. If Arsenal had stronger characters with a higher respect threshold, then you would not see so many injustices. Arsene also is at fault with his now comical mood swings and lack of respect for referees and opposition managers. Mr Wenger has become a very unlikeable character over the last six years—never accepting blame, shifting focus and using excuses. People lose respect and then want to see you fail. It is human nature; it is what we all do.
Arsene Wenger must now purchase the right kind of players that have this. This does not mean buying players with little or no experience in world and Premiership football. These players are closer to home than he and many Internet fantasy fans believe them to be.
Bring back the legacy and make it an honour to play for Arsenal FC, not some youth team that any Tom and Dick can play for. Offload the players who are there for a ride with their mates and bring in serious professionals who respect the badge and want to achieve a new legacy. Once you've acquired those players, Arsene, be vocal, ruthless and inspire your team to want to play for you. They should fear and admire you.
If Wenger cannot do this, I know a manager who can and has done it: George Graham.
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