Stoke’s 1-0 win over Arsenal on Saturday courtesy of debutant Jese provided the evidence to justify the fears of many Gunners fans; the north London outfit may be utilising a vogue 3-4-3 formation, the may have set a new record transfer fee on a free scoring striker in Alexandre Lacazette and they may be freed from the burdens of Champions League football this season, but they still suffer from the same old flaws that have seen them fall short in the title race for the last decade.
Arsenal have tasted victory just twice from their last ten trips to the Bet365 Stadium, a ground that has become an incredibly unhappy hunting ground for Arsene Wenger, perpetually struggling to let their quality tell over Stoke’s physical, feisty and organised style.
The Potters have become a much different animal under Mark Hughes, but the Welshman borrowed many of the methods of predecessor Tony Pulis on Saturday, sneaking a win with just 23% possession by packing central areas and hitting Arsenal on the counter.
However, whoever selected the referees for the Premier Leagues’ fixtures last weekend undoubtedly gave Stoke a helping hand. That’s not to suggest anything untoward took place, but the Potters couldn’t have found an official more suited to their game-plan than the one handed to them by the Premier League – Andre Marriner, not exactly a fan favourite at the Emirates Stadium anyway after his infamous case of mistaken identity.
Indeed, from the 19 referees to officiate in the top flight last season, Marriner ranked amongst the lowest for fouls per game and fouls per tackle, a mantra that played directly into Stoke’s hands as they applied a physical, full-blooded approach to stop Arsenal making progress in their final third. Rather incredibly from a game that produced 34 tackles, the 46-year-old didn’t issue a single yellow card, while he issued just six fouls against Stoke throughout the entire ninety minutes.
“We were unlucky with some decisions from the referee. 100% it was onside. I just watched it and it’s not offside at all. Even his foot was not offside but we have to swallow that. We don’t get penalties, we know that. I can get the numbers, you will see. Look at the statistics: we had the highest penalties against us at home by a mile [last season], and the lowest for us.”
Hughes will argue his side played firm but fair – it must be said that truly naughty challenges remained few and far between. However, Arsene Wenger clearly wasn’t happy with the officials after the match, claiming Lacazette was onside for his ruled-out equaliser and that the Gunners should have been awarded two penalties – something that may also be linked to Marriner’s consistent refrain from awarding fouls, although his view was seemingly skewed for both incidents.
In the first half, Hector Bellerin charged towards the byline but encountered Mame Biram Diouf as goalkeeper Jack Butland closed the situation down. It was a difficult decision but replays showed the Stoke man did impede the Spain international, inadvertently tangling legs as he went to strike the ball.
And the wing-back had another serious penalty shout in the second half, this time arguably falling victim to his own honesty. A Stoke defender dived in on Bellerin who, instead of going to ground, hurdled the challenge in an attempt to stay on his feet. That potentially threw Marriner off the scent of the arguable penalty. So, did Arsenal deserve at least one penalty versus Stoke? Let us know by voting above!
More crucially, how would you rate Marriner’s refereeing performance overall, with five being impeccable and one being disastrous? Vote below…