Every football fan is convinced of a refereeing conspiracy against their team.
With every 50/50 decision, foul throw, or added time announcement we howl with derision and point an accusing finger at the man in black. We convince ourselves it must be bias.
Of course, in the vast majority of cases it is nothing more than a matter of perception and our own biases clouding objectivity. In truth, we probably get as many of those run-of-the-mill decisions go for us as we do go against us.
But when you watch your team hamstrung week after week, with game-changing decisions stacking up against you at an inordinate rate, what else can you do but wonder?
A drab draw at Burnley on Saturday was but the latest in a long line of matches incontrovertibly altered by the ineptitude and inconsistency of match officials. We left Turf Moor with a point but, frankly, it is a travesty it wasn’t three.
No ‘ifs’ and no ‘buts’ the above is nothing short of a penalty kick. We have seen handball decisions given plenty of times this season, including by VAR, but you won’t have seen many more obviously fitting the current criteria than that. What was missing?
To add insult to injury, the offender here, Pieters, was the man on the spot to deny Nicolas Pepe the winner in the depths of injury time with a quite remarkable goal-line clearance. Although the referee blew up for a penalty on that occasion, VAR correctly concluded that it hit the player’s shoulder. Of course it did.
We find ourselves anchored in the mediocrity of mid-table for a number of reasons, make no mistake, but prominent among them is the frequency with which we find ourselves disadvantaged by officiating decisions that are wrong, laughably so.
I think we could all compartmentalise the odd controversy here or there, we are all human after all, but to have to go into every game wondering if the referee will even do his job correctly is an appalling state of affairs.
Many will point to the countless misses and spurned opportunities across the 90 minutes today and they would be right to do so. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Bukayo Saka, Dani Ceballos and Pepe were all guilty of atrocious profligacy that, in the end, would have rendered the VAR call irrelevant. You simply can’t afford to squander the chances we did against a side as poor as Burnley and under no circumstances can you afford to gift them goals. In the event, we did both.
But missing chances doesn’t disqualify us from having refereeing decisions applied correctly and consistently. It doesn’t matter if we miss one chance or 20, a penalty is a penalty. In the end, striking the woodwork twice, appalling misses, atrocious refereeing and suicidal defensive mistakes represent how things have gone for the Gunners this season.
You’d like to think that, in time, we might see the decisions (both correct and controversial) even out, as the old saying portents but, in truth, I fear it will only go on as it is until we can learn to make the referee an irrelevance. Until then, we are left cursing our misfortune and wondering, yet again, if there really is a conspiracy against us.