As if Sunday’s North London Derby between two bitter rivals separated by just three points wasn’t exciting enough, the decision to appoint Mike Dean as referee has added yet another sub-plot for Arsenal and Tottenham fans to dig their teeth into.
At this point, we’re all aware of the charges; Arsenal fans continue to accuse Dean of being a Tottenham supporter, having allegedly ‘celebrated’ two Spurs goals – one in 2012 and one in 2015 – and made a variety of controversial decisions against the Gunners including in a 1-1 draw with West Brom last season, his reaction to which earned Arsene Wenger a three-match ban for telling the 50-year-old official he wasn’t honest.
You can certainly understand, aside from the conspiracy theories, why Dean is such a frustrating referee. In addition to being intentionally theatrical at every opportunity, he seems almost unable to resist big and controversial decisions that are often out of sorts with the general flow of the game.
That’s shown in his averages so far this season; from the 17 referees to work in the Premier League, he ranks only 12th for fouls per tackle and 13th for fouls per game, yet has produced the third-most and fourth-most yellow and red cards per game respectively. It’s an imbalance that doesn’t quite add up, and only adds to the narrative of Dean seemingly feeling he has a divine right to decide games.
But in terms of the North London Derby itself, and indeed Dean’s overall interactions with Arsenal and Tottenham, the theories inevitably lack concrete evidence. In fact, Arsenal have won their last three games against Spurs with Dean in charge and their last league defeat under his watch was more than three years ago, back in September 2015.
If anything, Tottenham fans should be more worried about Dean’s presence this weekend than their Gunners counterparts, because of the negative attention his appointment has received. There’s probably a bigger danger of him overcompensating than doing anything that might suggest favouritism towards the Lilywhites. Curiously too, Tottenham have lost or drawn more games Dean has officiated, 27 out of 57, than won and while that still gives them a slightly better win percentage than Arsenal when the Wirral-born referee is in charge, the difference is a minimal one.
Clearly then, there’s no natural bias towards Tottenham – but the pressure Dean has come under in the buildup to Sunday’s game as a consequence of this prevailing narrative could well push him to sway towards the Gunners.
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