Kevin Friend has been appointed to officiate Manchester United and Arsenal’s Premier League clash this weekend, which could well end up being the last time Arsene Wenger faces the Red Devils and one of his most bitter rivals in Jose Mourinho.
And Friend has proved himself a referee of curious contradictions this season, at least compared to the rest of the 20 referees to work in the Premier League throughout 2017/18. Ranking in the bottom two for fouls per game, fouls per tackle and yellow cards per game, at first glance Friend is the kind of referee who allows physical challenges, wants the game to flow and shies away from making controversial decisions.
But that only represents a false sense of security for Arsenal and United, because Friend has awarded a staggering eight penalties during his 18 top flight outings this season. In fact, if the two referees to officiate one game apiece are taken out of the equation, he averages the most penalties per match of any Premier League official. Indeed, it seems that while Friend is usually prepared to let plenty go, different rules apply inside the penalty box.
Arsenal and United must be aware of that this weekend, but Friend has another statistical quirk that should breed confidence into the Old Trafford camp. It’s no secret that United often get the rub of the green from referees when playing on their own patch – well, that effect could be doubled or tripled this weekend, because no Premier League referee this season has a higher home win bias than Friend’s 61%.
Worrying news for the north Londoners, who also have a mixed record when Friend is in charge. While he oversaw their 2-0 win over Brighton back in October without awarding the Gunners a single yellow card, he was also in charge for the 2-1 defeat to Bournemouth. For United, meanwhile, this will be their first Premier League clash this season with Friend donning the whistle.