Refereeing in the Premier League

Refereeing in the Premier League
WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 31: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal in discussion with referee Mike Dean during the Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal at The Hawthorns on December 31, 2017 in West Bromwich, England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

This past week has seen a couple of incidents that have sparked debate about refereeing. Arsene Wenger was handed a three-match touchline ban, plus a slap-on-the-wrist fine, for verbally berating Mike Dean following the West Brom draw. He is also being asked to explain his comments made both before and after the match with Chelsea. I’m sure you have your own opinions about refereeing in the Premier League. So, please remember to leave a comment after the read.

Refereeing in the Premier League; Handball

You’ve all seen the replays, so I won’t go into a full recap, but that really was a harsh penalty decision from Mike Dean. Gibbs is less than two yards away from Chambers when he plays the ball. This gives him about a third of a second to react.

Yes, you can’t handle the ball and if you do in the box, it’s a penalty. However, there is a stipulation about the player handling the ball deliberately versus accidentally.

In fact, speaking after the match, that is the exact rule that Petr Cech referred to when he told the media just how he felt about the decision.

“Every time we have a meeting with the referees at the start of the season and every time it comes to this point. The player is too close to the ball, he has no chance to react, his hands are by his side – that will never be a penalty. Then when the referee gives this, with two minutes to go – that’s why I ask him why he changes his opinion to give a penalty when every time we have this meeting and it’s clear that they are saying this is a pen.”

Glossing over how silly it was to caution Cech for questioning the call, this is still worrisome.

Why is it that a referee can essentially change the rules of the game during the match? A certain amount of an official’s job is based on judgement, but how can a handball be deliberate with so little time to react?

What may be even more infuriating is the fact that Wenger is given a three-match ban for expressing his ire. However, the FA is not, as far as the general public knows, asking Mike Dean to explain why exactly he did what he did.

Refereeing in the Premier League; Penalties

This is a discussion which could fill ten posts, let alone about a quarter of one, so I’m sorry for being brief. Anyway, there is no real consistency with how penalties are called in the Prem.

How many times have controversial penalties come late in a game? Too many to count. For example, take one of a few decisions which have gone against Arsenal this year.

The Richarlison penalty was, no doubt about it, soft. However, with time starting to tick away and minimal contact made, a spot-kick is awarded. If it were in the 20′ instead of the 70′, would it have been called?

The Gibbs penalty, as ridiculous as it was, was even later in the match. Would Mike Dean have tried to call it if there were only 5 minutes on the clock?

The Hazard penalty, again, was late enough in the game to really affect the outcome. If scores were level, does that soft of a call get made?

What about the calls that went for Arsenal, but I’m too biased to remember them?

If soft penalties are penalties, then they should be called no matter what the official’s timepiece says, or what the scoreline is.

Refereeing in the Premier League; Diving

This debate is far too large to fully explain in one post, but let’s give it a try anyway. Diving is, like it or not, becoming just another part of the game. Same as offsides, the backpass rule and stoppage time.

How many times in this season alone have we seen obvious simulation, from all teams to be fair, that have gone uncalled? Probably we would lose count, just like with the penalties debate.

Let’s assume and the soft call on Bellerin on Wednesday is legitimate. Why isn’t Hazard shown yellow for attempting to deceive the referee? After all, a ref can caution a player and award a foul in their favor.

The Belgian was clearly holding his shin when the glancing blow from Bellerin’s foot hit the back of the attacker’s boot. That’s without mentioning how easily he went down, although it would be unfair to single him out.

We could likely pick out another half-dozen or so flops committed just during Wednesday’s derby, but the point is probably clear already.

Refereeing in the Premier League; The FA’s Responsibility

Let’s take a little bit of a detour away from England and Wales, and towards North America. The NHL, hockey’s premier league, had a big problem with players breaking the rules about fifteen or so years ago.

Defensemen would hook, hold, grab, slash, poke and prod attackers for three periods, making the game very closed. It was a bit like the Prem today with all the simulation; players knew they would get away with it, and refs didn’t call it because it was accepted.

So, the world of hockey came together during the lockout season of 03-04 and did something about it. Now, all hooks, holds, grabs, slashes, pokes and prods are called, no matter how minor and no matter how it would affect the flow of the game.

Back to football.

Fans want to see the end of diving, bad penalty calls and unfair handball decisions. It’s up to the FA to do what hockey players, owners and the NHL came together to do over a decade ago. They must define the rules clearly and follow them to the letter.

It is up to the FA, but each day they go without putting their foot down and clearly defining how games will be called in the Premier League, and by extension the entire football pyramid, the worse the inconsistency will get. Simply put, refereeing in the Premier League must improve.

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