Frustrating VAR decisions must not define Arsenal’s season


Many Arsenal fans could have been forgiven for getting ahead of themselves after the bright start their side had made to the Premier League season. Maintaining a 100% record from their first five games, the Gunners had demonstrated a combination of resilience, flair, grit, and proficiency to make a bright start to the new campaign under Mikel Arteta, but faced Manchester United in their first genuine test away at Old Trafford. Success would increase their stock when it comes to bets for football.

An old rivalry rekindled, the battle that unfolded at the Theatre of Dreams reminded fans of the fragility Arsenal still possess, and that their capitulation can vary throughout the course of the season. In what they’d hope to be the year that Champions League football finally returns to the Emirates Stadium for the first time in seven years, you’d wonder how this new-look side would fare in Europe now had they not fallen at the last hurdle in the pursuit of the top four.

Despite coming out of the traps slowly against United, it looked as though Arteta’s good fortunes would continue as his side managed to take the lead against the run of play — or so they thought. Gabriel Martinelli’s opener was ruled out after Martin Ødegaard had allegedly committed a foul. The 12th-minute goal was chalked off by VAR to Arteta’s frustration.

“It’s a lack of consistency,” he said. “What is soft? Last week, they [Aston Villa] got a goal when there’s a foul on Aaron (Ramsdale), but it’s soft and it’s not a foul.

“Then there’s a penalty on Bukayo [Saka, by Tyrone Mings] but it’s soft and not a penalty. Today this is a foul.”

It makes you wonder if there are indeed issues with VAR. Only three years ago did a similar foul on Divock Origi give United the opener against Liverpool at Old Trafford. That wasn’t ruled out, while Ødegaard’s challenge was, and the Norwegian doubled down on his manager’s comments.

“In my opinion, it’s never a foul,” he said. “The referee sees it and plays play on.

“It’s a soft challenge and for VAR to come in it has to be clear and obvious. That’s been said a lot of times. On the camera, you can always make it look a little bit worse, but, for me, that was never a foul so it’s frustrating.”

The visitors were then punished for a lapse in concentration — £85 million debutant Antony announcing himself to the Premier League with a composed finish past the helpless Ramsdale. Having gone in behind at the break, Arteta looked as if he’d inspired his team with a motivational talk redolent to his episodes in Arsenal’s ‘All or Nothing’ documentary, and some pressure was duly rewarded with a Bukayo Saka equaliser.

Six minutes later though, Marcus Rashford broke through on goal to restore the hosts’ lead, and put the game beyond doubt when he grabbed his brace — ending Arsenal’s unbeaten start in the process.

There’s still plenty of time for Arsenal to establish themselves as a major player in this season’s title race, but after wilting at the first proper challenge, it does make you question their championship credentials. It’s hard to see anyone slowing down Manchester City in their pursuit of a third successive league title, and with Liverpool and Chelsea suffering slow starts this season, there’s more of an inevitability about a Pep Guardiola hat-trick than anything. Arsenal must start beating the big boys to prove people wrong.

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By Maelyn

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