Arsenal v Reading: Not Good For The Conspiracy Theorists

Conspiracy theorists: What a bunch of idiots.

Some people would have you believe that there is a conspiracy among Premier League referees to make Arsenal do badly. Apparently this was even going on in Saturday’s match against Reading. Obviously it wasn’t working very well, as Arsenal won 4-1, but at one point during the game, after an offside decision was apparently missed, I saw this tweet:

“At what point do we drop the line that it’s terrible officiating and say that maybe, just maybe, it’s deliberate?”

Hmm, well at no point if you’re a reasonable level-headed person. Now maybe the author was being ironic or sarcastic, or just having a little joke – we all know that subtleties can be hard to detect in the written word, especially when you have a maximum of 140 characters. But then some replies appeared too:

“Oh it’s just simple coincidence they’ve missed 2 penalties and an offside”

“They missed an offside which could have led to an undeserved goal [for Reading]”


Basically all the replies were in agreement that something funny was definitely going on. Those dastardly officials were doing everything they could to make Arsenal lose!

Do me a favour.

The obvious explanation here is the correct one: officials don’t get everything right. Sometimes they have better days than others, but they generally do their best. They don’t have the benefit of slow-motion or replays or different angles, they see everything once in real time at normal speed from one angle. There are 22 players on the pitch, many of them move quite fast, they often block the referee’s view, and even more often are trying to gain any advantage they can for their team even if it means breaking the rules or telling blatant lies. Of course some of the officials’ decisions are going to be wrong!

For offsides, the linesman/assistant is obliged to keep up with the furthest forward attacking player and keep one eye on him, one eye on the last defender and at the same time watch who has the ball and where and when it’s being kicked. Then he has to make a split second decision about whether an attacker was further advanced than the last defender, even if the ball was kicked from 60 yards away and several players are moving in opposite directions. It’s amazing they get so many of them right!

I’m not going to debate the rights and wrongs of officials using replays or the fourth official getting involved, but the fact is that under the present system officials will get things wrong from time to time. That doesn’t mean there’s a conspiracy.

I’m also not going to bother looking at every offside decision in a game and try and ‘prove’ any bias from it. But I will look at two penalty decisions from the Arsenal/Reading match, one given and one not given.

First, the foul on Olivier Giroud by Stuart Taylor after Giroud tried to flick the ball over the advancing keeper into the net. Was this really a foul? Yes it was. Did the referee see it? Yes he did. Does it prove he was biased because he didn’t give it? No it doesn’t. It should have been a penalty, no doubt about it. Giroud was upended by Taylor in the penalty area with the ball still in play.giroud fouled by stuart taylor

However, the fact is these are never given. This is not bias against Arsenal, this is the same wrong treatment for everyone. The unwritten rule is this: “If a player has already taken his shot the keeper may charge into him without being penalised.” It happens all the time. I can only assume refs think that if the shot has been taken then the keeper is not stopping a goalscoring chance, so there’s no issue. Usually the ball either goes in – at which point the attacker doesn’t usually care about the foul – or the shot goes wide, so the ref lets it go. This happens at least once in probably half of all games. Look out for it. There’s no bias, it’s just the unwritten rule that refs live by.

Note that the unwritten rule only applies once the shot has been taken. Push it past the keeper and get clattered and a penalty is usually given.

Now the penalty that Arsenal got against Reading, from which the fourth goal was scored. Blatant foul, wasn’t it? Certain penalty. Ox’s legs taken away, no doubt about that. Except it wasn’t a penalty because it wasn’t actually committed in the penalty area. Here’s a picture of the moment of contact.ox penalty v reading

All four feet of both players are clearly well outside the line of the area. Now, if the officials were so determined Arsenal should get nothing, why give a penalty when it’s not even in the area? They’d surely avoid giving anything even if they thought it was inside, and then say afterwards, ‘Well it looked outside to me’. But no; penalty given with no hesitation.

All we can expect from officials is that they make a reasonable judgement based on being in a reasonable place to view an incident (once in real time, don’t forget). By and large that happens.

So to anyone who persists in shouting ‘Conspiracy!’ whenever something goes against their team, get a grip. You’re just embarrassing yourself.

Follow me on twitter: @AngryOfN5


18 thoughts on “Arsenal v Reading: Not Good For The Conspiracy Theorists

  1. You’re completely bang on regarding the Giroud trip. That non-call happens so many times, it’s effectively become the rule. Hell, even in FIFA 13, the keeper can clatter you and get away with it if you got a shot off. It’s clearly the wrong call, but it’s one that’s made ALL the time.

    Alas most fans are so myopic they only ever see things through the prism of the team they support, thereby missing the forest for the trees.

  2. We had 1 penalty in the Premiership last season, United had over a dozen.

    I think going that into depth on a match where the refereeing was fine is a little strange, and no proof of anything.;should we take a look at the Newcastle game 2 seasons back? No red for any of their players, few cards at all in fact and two penalties out of nothing, that proves nothing too though as it’s just one game under one ref.

    If you seriously think we get a fair shake of the refs compared to other teams then I don’t understand it given what I’ve seen but fair enough; going into that much detiail makes it look like you have an agenda though.

    • Having said that and reading a few other blogs, the stupidity of people not understanding things IS bloody annoying, carry on telling people when they’re being stupid.

  3. A spot on post, angryofislington.
    I hope a certain Arsenal website, and a particular ‘writer’ on the site, reads this.
    An ‘agenda’ has been order of the day over there for far too long.
    I used to be a regular reader, and contributed comments often, but I moved on quite some time ago. The absolutely relentless bashing of officials became so pathetically tiresome…

  4. Oh my God, fans asking for officials to apply the rules of the game fairly and consistently. How dare they?

    Regarding Giroud: the ball was still in play in the goalmouth and Giroud was clearly impeded by the goalkeeper from continuing on to follow up his shot to make sure it went in.

    Last I checked there is no rule in football, written or “unwritten”, which says a player can only get one shot and is not allowed not follow up his shot to make sure it goes in.

    There IS a law however, saying that impeding the opponent in the box illegally gets you a card and the opponent a penalty.

    As such, anyone excusing the farcial decision with Giround clearly does not know the game.

    Moreover there is no doubt that if the goalkeeper in question was Sczesney or Fabianski, that he would be off the field and a penalty awarded.

    • “Last I checked there is no rule in football, written or “unwritten”, which says a player can only get one shot and is not allowed not follow up his shot to make sure it goes in.”
      The point here is you can’t check it because as I stated it’s unwritten. We all know – and can check – that it’s not a written rule.
      I was not excusing the decision, I was saying that to accuse officials of bias because of it overlooks that fact that the same thing – again as I stated – happens to every team. Or are you saying that every goalkeeper EXCEPT Arsenal goalkeepers would get away with it? In which case: get real.

  5. Conspiracy theorist is a convenient term to prejudice opinion against a certain theory. It brings up visions of outlandish, cultist ideas without even looking at the basis of the theory. Which is exactly what you do here.

    What is so outlandish about the theory that the referees, like anything in the world, are liable to be corrupt. There’s big money in football, and where there’s money, there’s usually corruption. Especially in an environment which is completely opaque, such as the referee’s world. Why is there a dominance of northern referees? Why are certain referees appointed/not appointed to certain matches? (We get Dean most often, ManU don’t get Atkinson and Clattenburg for 11 month after losses to Chelsea and City respectively) On what basis are referees marked? And that’s leaving aside the sheer weight of decisions against and for certain teams.

    As for Arsenal. A ‘penalty’ which shouldn’t have been in a match where one had been denied already, but the match was won regardless doesn’t ‘prove’ anything. That was a crap refereeing performance though. Not as crap as Dowd against Newcastle, or Dean countless times. None of those prove anything. But at some point, when there’s a clear pattern established over a long period, with nothing being done about it, the possibility exists that the ‘conspiracy theorists’ might actually have a point. No?

    Is this some sort of April Fools’ wind-up? If not, it’s highly disappointing that something so inane would appear on a site which I usually enjoy. And I’m not talking about you having an opinion which is different. I’m talking about you debunking a contrary opinion on the basis of nothing, if not contrary evidence.

    • So you say it was a crap refereeing performance, while others think it was fine.
      I don’t dispute corruption exists, I’m disputing bias against Arsenal. But I’m happy to review your full dossier of the ‘clear pattern established over a long period’. Where can I get hold of it?

      • You are “disputing bias against Arsenal”, claiming it is “consipracy theory”, but provide zero data to support your claim. The best you could do was: “There are 22 players on the pitch, many of them move quite fast, they often block the referee’s view ”

        When called on this nonsense, you challenge OTHERS to provide data – when YOU didnt?


      • If there’s evidence of bias against Arsenal, show me it. Show me how Arsenal consistently get more decisions against them than anyone else. Not just random stats like ‘Man U concede fewer penalties than Arsenal’, that on its own proves nothing.

        I’m not sure what the point about players blocking the referee’s view has to do with this. I was merely pointing out that referees cannot be expected to see every incident perfectly because there is a fair chance that another player happens to be in the way. The ref is at ground level, and with 22 players on the pitch it’s inevitable that sometimes one or more will be ‘in the way’. This is most unlikely to be deliberate. We’re not talking about WWE tag team wrestling!

      • Firstly, don’t mix up bias and corruption. All human beings have some bias. That’s ok. As long as it doesn’t impinge on our ability to be largely impartial. Referees have biases. Home bias, big team bias etc. I can live with that. On top of that, there is also a northern bias, accentuated by there being very few referees from the south, and none from London. That is a little more disconcerting because it is something which seems intentional.

        But what bias normally does is affect the close calls. The calls where it is a 50-50. Once that 50-50 decision becomes stretched to say 80-20, then it isn’t bias (subconscious), it is corruption (conscious) . Note that this corruption doesn’t have to involve direct transfer of money. Simply having your promotion linked to certain things you do, is an indirect gain, and nothing you will ever consider ‘proof’. Why else would Atkinson be kept away from ManU for so long? Likewise Clattenburg. Did you know that uptil last season, or two seasons ago (my ‘dossier’ isn’t quite my full time job) ManU under Webb, Walton, Dowd and Dean, lost just 1 of their 49 games? If that form were extrapolated to all referees (considering it is statistically viable) then they’d win the league before the new year I believe.

        But you of course, don’t dispute corruption. Simply that Arsenal are the victims of it. And the evidence you have is a wrongly awarded penalty in a game for which Arseblog (who’ll likely agree with your conspiracy theory bit) also criticised the referee. It’s strange because if we lose and blame the referee, it’s supposed to be excuse making. If we win, it shows the theory is just wrong.

        I could point out many instances of where Arsenal have been hard done by. But what’s the point? If you don’t want to see it, you won’t. Because you’ll point to a few things that went for Arsenal and say it all evens out. If that doesn’t add up you’ll say other teams suffer too (which doesn’t mean Arsenal aren’t being screwed by the way) The refereedecisions website someone pointed out above has a full dossier of every decision in all EPL matches. Feel free to disagree with individual decisions there (I do occasionally) and come up with your own statistics to challenge theirs.

        By the way, Arsenal playing badly and being screwed by the referee are not mutually exclusive positions. But I think it’s not even a non-mainstream position now about the referees and Arsenal. But of course, that could just be me and my cult gravitating towards each other. After all, we’re all tin foil hat wearing loonies.

      • Fans of EVERY team can point out instances where they believe their team has been hard done by. If you don’t want to see it, you won’t.

  6. “If there’s evidence of bias against Arsenal, show me it. Show me how Arsenal consistently get more decisions against them than anyone else. Not just random stats like ‘Man U concede fewer penalties than Arsenal’, that on its own proves nothing.”

    Please actually go to where they DO compile the data you want to see…

    Someone HAS made the data available. Go there are analyse it if you want to give any weight to your argument!

  7. Phil,

    ” If that doesn’t add up you’ll say other teams suffer too (which doesn’t mean Arsenal aren’t being screwed by the way) ”

    Seems like I was correct about that. Look, I’m not trying to convince you. If you think Arsenal are treated the same way as every other team, that’s ok. I object to the classification of a contrary viewpoint as a ‘conspiracy theory’ with all the connotations that has.

    Besides, this is beyond Arsenal. The standard of refereeing is terrible in England. Germany, for example, has much better refereeing. Improve the refereeing and provide accountability and transparency, and you remove the basis for any team to feel purposely targeted. For now, there is quite a large body of evidence out there that things do not even themselves out, and that Arsenal (possibly amongst others) find themselves getting the short end of the stick. You yourself don’t rule out corruption. So who benefits from this corruption? Or do the perps take care to even everything out for all the teams? Why Arsenal? I don’t know. I could guess of course but that would just be a theory, not an answer. Which doesn’t make it wrong.

    And if I were a person involved in corruption and manipulating results. The overall chaos generated by a multitude of poor decisions would help me, because then it would lead people to say every team feels hard done by. It would be in my interest to keep the referees above any reasoned discussion by painting those that would ask tough questions as idiots or conspiracy theorists. The tweets that so outrage you, are simply an outlet for feelings of helplessness and exasperation. Do some of it have to do with Arsenal’s failings? I guess. But I’m sorry, just because you don’t believe something, it doesn’t make the other point of view worth ridiculing. Especially because you have nothing to back you up.

  8. I’ve already, in the course of my posts raised a few issues with refereeing that might point to some deliberate manipulation, which you have ignored. The amount of times we get Dean each season (and our record under him), the way ManU don’t get certain referees when they feel that’s what cost them a high profile match, the scarcity of referees from the south, ManU’s record under the 4 refs. That’s just what I said to illustrate a larger point and not an in depth look at what is wrong. Or at least what there might be wrong? But with all of this going on (and never questioned in the media by the way) is it that much of a stretch that some teams might be hard done by? None of those tweets suggested Arsenal were the ONLY club being cheated. Just that they were. So, once again, as I said, it is beyond Arsenal. It is about the refereeing.

    Oh, and one last word on this before I leave you in peace. Do you know that ManU fans think the Ashley Young dive against Villa(?) where he spreadeagled his legs to make contact was actually a penalty, and that a lot of them would scream bloody murder if they didn’t get a decision like that? That’s because they are used to getting such decisions and would feel aggrieved if they didn’t get them. I would suggest a similar thing in reverse has happened to you. The Giroud non penalty is just an example of that.

  9. You don’t need a conspiracy theory to explain why we do less well with certain refs and very much better with others. A lot of key decisions depend on interpretation, hence inconsistency. For example, some refs seem more tolerant of the ‘manlier’ side of football. And it might be that this attitude is regional, that refs raised in the frozen wastes north of Watford tend to look on us as ‘souther softies’. Not a conspiracy, just normal human behaviour.

  10. Funny that all the comments thus far have somehow ignored Ox being gifted a penalty, where he was tripped a whole yard outside the box. If there’s any truth to an obvious conspiracy, then I’m thinking we don’t

    Arteta’s goal vs QPR late that was clearly offside in real time, and a Cazorla dive that was awarded a penalty vs West Brom that was equally obvious, are two clear calls that went in our favour and helped us get points. But again, that goes against the conspiracy narrative.

    I don’t believe in the “bad calls even themselves out” bollocks, but I do believe every team gets bad calls against ’em at some point. Some calls are far more damaging than others, but alas that’s just the nature of the game.

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