Why refereeing decisions have no bearing on the race

In a week where it has seemed every single match has had a controversial refereeing decision, the inevitable watchword in the press has been “cost.” How much will Martin Atkinson’s decision not to send off Chelsea’s David Luiz on Tuesday night cost Manchester United come the end of the season? Similarly, how much will Andrei Arshavin’s legitimate strike being ruled out for offside against Sunderland at the weekend cost Arsenal in terms of their pursuit of a first trophy since 2005?

Interesting questions these may be, however the sentiment behind the thought process is fatally flawed. If Manchester United fail to win the title or if Arsenal are unable to capitalise on their rival’s profligacy the refereeing decisions over the last seven days will be unable to disguise the fact that each side deserves their fate.

Arsene Wenger might have labelled himself “disgusted” with the decision-making of referee and linesmen during Saturday’s stalemate with Sunderland, but in reality he will be far more livid with his side for missing an absolute golden opportunity to establish a real foothold in the battle for Chelsea’s Premier League crown. For all the talk of potential and excitement, home draws against mid-table teams are the sorts of results that have blighted Arsenal’s past endeavours at top-flight glory, and Wenger knows it.

Similarly, Ferguson’s outspoken outburst came in the knowledge that his attacking gamble backfired. Hoping to land a decisive blow in the race for the summit, his side threw away their first half ascendancy at the Bridge on Tuesday and as a result enabled a confidence poor Chelsea back into a game they had no right to win.

Over the course of a 38 game season, the chances of the best side not winning the league are inevitably miniscule. Keen followers of the division may argue that this has all but happened in two of the last three years – Chelsea nearly stole the title from a Manchester United side that had dominated all comers and included 42 goal Cristiano Ronaldo in 2008, and last year United nearly returned the favour by almost pipping the West London outfit to the line despite the Blues having won all six of their fixtures against the then established ‘Big Four.’

Nevertheless, despite these close run races, the best team will ultimately out. Chelsea might argue that had the referee given Wigan a penalty when Rio Ferdinand handled on the final day of the 2007-08 season or had under-pressure Atkinson not awarded the Blues a disputed free-kick during last year’s clash with Ferguson’s men that the championship trophy would have ended up in different hands.

This is not to give in to the old cliché that Steve Bruce likes to exploit when he is feeling pragmatic that; “decisions even themselves out over the course of the season” because for many sides, they don’t. However, opportunities will present themselves – if you are good enough to take them then moments of glory and success will follow.

Even in the face of the worst refereeing performances imaginable, you cannot allow any excuses over decisions to remain. Think back to Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Barcelona at Stamford Bridge in that Champions League last four tie from 2009. Whilst the five time semi-finalists rightly felt aggrieved about the quality of officialdom that night, it is often forgotten that Didier Drogba and Juliano Belletti missed golden opportunities to make sure that the perceived injustice did not count against them. As it was, Barcelona scored with their only shot on target during the whole match and went on to win Europe’s premier cup competition, landing plaudits the world over. Scarcely deserved, you might argue, but in a black and white world, Chelsea had only themselves to blame.

Ultimately, you cannot simply rely on every refereeing decision to go your way – from a manager’s point of view, put your faith in anything other than your own team’s performance and you are courting trouble.

There were 90 minutes in which Arsenal had the chance to put Sunderland away on Saturday, but with one eye on this week’s trip to Spain, Wenger’s men hoped that should they turn up and drift a win would be easily attainable. Some sides are able to take that risk and come through matches of that sort unscathed, however in a closely packed title race the cost of that attitude can be unimaginable.

Agree? Disagree? Reckon Alan Wiley and Fergie are rubbish charades partners? Find me on Twitter and let me know.

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