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Could VAR finally bring improvements in Arsenal’s misfortunes against Chelsea?

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Could VAR finally bring improvements in Arsenal’s misfortunes against Chelsea?

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Subhayan Dutta


Arsenal’s Carabao Cup semi-final against Chelsea will see the use of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) for the first time in the tournament’s history. After suffering wrong penalty decisions against West Brom, Chelsea and Nottingham Forest, Wenger would finally hope for some change in his misfortunes.

Arsene Wenger pretty much personifies Arsenal’s ongoing uncertainties. The French manager has been handed a three-match ban for misconduct and a £40,000 fine, following the wrong penalty decision in the West Bromwich Albion game. Further fuel was added to the fire when referees' chief Mike Riley revealed that Mike Dean had admitted his mistake by awarding the Baggies a penalty. However, the honesty couldn’t bring Arsenal the two points that they had to cheaply part ways with a win in their New Year's Eve clash.    

As if that was not frustrating enough for the fans and him, the manager was at the receiving end of yet another seemingly refereeing blunder, who gave another penalty against Arsenal after Eden Hazard’s diving antics following a soft touch by Hector Bellerin. 

“I questioned the decision of the referee. Then, we are objective. You look at the picture. You see how Hazard goes down and you see how quickly he takes the penalty when he gets the penalty,” Wenger had said referring to it.

“If he was so injured why did he take the penalty? He made more of it, [like a] professional, basically, and shouts. I can understand that. I do not blame Hazard. He acted in a very professional way to get the penalty for his team, which he did well.”

Both the times, the North London club were denied a shot at a win as both the decisions changed the whole course of the game. While at the Hawthorns the decision came in the 89th minute, the one against Chelsea was a strong blow to an already depleted side’s confidence, who couldn’t really recover from it. 

After getting wronged on two consecutive occasions Arsenal’s miseries were miraculously compounded further at the City Ground against Nottingham Forest in the club’s much-celebrated tournament, FA Cup. Trailing 3-2, Arsenal were on course for a final burst of attempts that looked much of a possibility as Forest had just seen a red card and were a man less on the field. However, the Gunners conceded a penalty in the 85th minute as Forest increased their lead to two goals with five minutes left, handing the Arsenal their first ever third-round exit from the FA Cup.

And quite unbelievably, even that penalty should have been a retake after replays suggested that Kieran Dowell had lost his balance and made a double touch while taking the spot kick. Arsenal's defenders were all over the referee, Jon Moss about it, who, after consulting with his assistant, decided to give it a goal.

One might always point at Arsene Wenger’s depreciating qualities as a football tactician to link to Arsenal’s poor season, but Arsenal have been going through excruciating misfortunes of late and one would hardly feel optimistic about their next trip to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. The Blues were definitely the better-attacking side at the Emirates last week and missed out on some glaring opportunities to come out with a draw, but their star-studded side would be the least of concerns for Arsenal now. They would much rather worry about yet another refereeing howler that would possibly take away the tie completely from Arsenal’s hands before they play the second leg at the Emirates. 

However, things might seem to finally change for the better for Wenger too, on Wednesday night, as this will be the first time that Video Assistant Referee (VAR) would be introduced in the tournament. The longest-serving Premier League manager has been one of the oldest advocates of the system and Wednesday could finally see Arsenal’s refereeing curse break.

It was used in Monday's FA Cup third-round tie between Brighton & Hove Albion and Crystal Palace after the International Football Association Board agreed a two-year trial back in 2016. The technology could be used in four "match-changing" situations - goals, penalty/no penalty decisions, straight red cards and cases of mistaken identity by the referee. 

Quite interestingly, the first leg of Manchester City vs Bristol City that took place at Ashton Gate didn’t have the technology to get the footage back to the league’s TV HQ in Uxbridge. Stamford Bridge, like all Premier League ground, has it and Arsenal would hope it comes to their rescue on the big night as they are left to contest for the only two remaining tournaments they have a real shot.

The VAR is used widely extensively in rugby league, American football, and cricket, and its use in football came after a lengthy debate. Its prime objective is to ‘correct clear errors and for missed serious incidents' in match-changing situations according to the International Football Association Board (IFAB).

A referee can ask for a referral to the technology, which is then sent to an off-field referee in the Premier League film headquarters in Uxbridge. The referee in the headquarters will have access to every camera angle, plus the four goal-decision system cameras. More interestingly, they won’t be able to see what broadcasters show and would remain uninfluenced by anything external to those camera angles.

Though Arsenal’s form has been far from satisfactory this season and the injury list piling up every now and then, the outcome wouldn’t bear the frustrating undertone of Arsenal fans anymore.

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