Things We Think We Think #245


1. Disappointment at Arsenal – but that we’re disappointed at all to lose at Arsenal is perhaps a sign of progress. We’ll touch upon Mark Clattenburg’s afternoon shortly, but let’s not let a referee’s performance wholly overshadow City’s, as Marco Silva and his squad can influence only the latter.

2. City, again, played well. The side kept a pleasing shape and discipline throughout the match, rarely looking anything but compact and organised. The greatest threat to our goal in the first half came from peculiar acts of self-harm when in possession in our own half, a combination of the skiddy surface and unusual hesitancy frequently coughing up the ball. That aside, the Tigers looked every bit a side that’s strongly improving, and but for some more attentive officiating and greater incision with the final ball, a point could have been ours.

3. Mark Clattenburg had a game he won’t forget in a hurry, but we’re not inclined to go with the popular view on a few points when the referee’s performance is discussed. Two of our number are qualified referees, even if we’ve not taken up whistles in some time, and though it’s not easy to put club loyalty to one side, we are coming at this from a Laws of the game standpoint…

4. Did Alexis Sanchez handle the ball? Yes he did, replays are conclusive. But was it handball? Hmm. That’s a whole other animal. Some people think the ball striking an arm or hand automatically means handball, but Law 12 states unequivocally that “Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm.”

It goes on to say:

The following must be considered:

  •  the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)
  •  the distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)
  •   the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement

You’ll notice that notions of ‘unnatural position of the arm’ have been removed from the 2016/17 update of the Laws. That was always a nebulous term that caused more confusion than it cleared up, it isn’t unnatural after all for a player to have his arms away from the body or even high as he runs, makes a shot or stretches to make a tackle. In the case of Sanchez, he was in an odd pose as he stretched to shoot, his arms were raised to provide balance as he shot. The shot struck Jakupović and rebounded on to Sanchez’ hand, changed direction and went in. The ball moved towards the hand rather than the hand to the ball, Sanchez’s hand was where it was as he tried to balance following through from a shot, and although slow motion replays distort the fact, this all happened in a split second, it seems unlikely that Sanchez had the time to process and physically respond to this in such an infinitesimal period of time. Not impossible, he could have chosen to use his hand, but it seems unlikely. Now it seems unjust that the ball can go in off a body part whose use is prohibited by outfield players, but the focus of the letter of the law is deliberateness of action, and because of that we feel the goal should stand.

5. This makes the referee’s half-time apology all the more strange. We aren’t accustomed to mid-match expressions of remorse when they’re patently vindicated, let alone when sufficient doubt exists as to excuse an official. Perhaps it was an attempt at mitigating City’s displeasure. If so, it failed spectacularly when a far more obvious decision was made incorrectly. There’s an argument for dismissing Theo Walcott when his pathetic tantrum saw a ball hurled at a linesman, though we’d lean more towards an early bedtime with no reading. However, there exists no plausible reason not to send Kieran Gibbs off for an obvious, deliberate denial of a goalscoring opportunity for Lazar Marković. It wasn’t even remotely close to being contentious.

5a. And no, we don’t buy deliberate bias; referees are proud, professional people whose careers depend upon accuracy. However, the sheer scale of the error does hint at other things, which are still troubling. Does he not know the laws? No, clearly he does. Was the referee just not paying attention? Lazy. Take a week off. Was he afraid of giving a red card against a Big Club? Now we could be onto something. And this isn’t consciously favouring one side either. Referees are an admirable bunch, but they’re also human, and they know at the back of their minds that wrongly issuing major punishment against one of the Sky Sports Mega Clubs will guarantee days of media opprobrium and thunderous, libellous disapproval from their managers, none of which will be adequately punished by the spineless authorities. No such fate awaits if you similarly err against little old Hull City. How could that knowledge, lodged in the subconscious of every official, not occasionally influence and explain a ridiculous decision favouring the favoured?

6. That we’re all still discussing some of Mr Clattenburg’s decisions two days later demonstrates one thing: video referees may cut down upon some of the more obvious howlers, but whatever their merits, they’ll never get everything correct to the satisfaction of everyone. Football’s just too messy, too imperfect for that. And therein lies its charm.

7. It’s often easier for us as partisans to scapegoat the referee than to acknowledge the failures of our heroes. It’s worth pointing out that had Oumar Niasse better anticipated the magnificent run of Lazar Marković in the first half, and had Eldin Jakupović not embarked upon an absurd adventure outside his box leading to the dismissal of Sam Clucas and a penalty for Arsenal, City could have taken something from the trip to the Emirates Stadium despite the hand of Sanchez shenanigans.

8. It was good to see Ahmed Elmohamady back in City colours, and now we have an actual right back in our squad, fit, playing and capable, maybe there’s a big opportunity for our long-serving Egyptian to restore his reputation as a fine deliverer from wide midfield of quality service and not worry as much, if at all, about that unglamorous defending lark. An in-form, focussed Elmohamady, now a player of great experience, is still a very good thing to have in our squad.

9. City now have a fortnight off to recuperate before a string of “winnable” fixtures. However, we thought the same shortly after losing to Chelsea in October – that, having emerged from a series of difficult games, we could gather points against the lesser lights. And conspicuously failed. A repeat of that ruinous autumn form will surely relegate us. A repeat of our recent form against the big lads will see us safe. Lots of big games await, and we enter them in significantly better condition that some of our relegation rivals. We can’t wait. Sort of.

10. May we offer up a better ode to Harry Maguire than ‘Arry! ‘Arry!’? How about an appropriation of the Will Grigg song, going…”Harry Maguire! Theo Walcott’s terrified…”

24 replies
  1. James
    James says:

    Whilst I don’t disagree with your interpretation of handball, I think 9/10 referees would have called it had they seen it.

    The ball to hand rule has never been applied to the letter of the law. It’s only recently that crosses accidentally blocked by arms get ignored. And outside of the box, if the ball hits your hand and you gain an advantage, it will always result in a free kick regardless of whether you meant it.

    Clattenburg’s apology confirms this. I take no comfort in being the club that ‘benefits’ from the only time the rules are followed.

  2. dave nutley
    dave nutley says:

    I agree with your interpretation of the handball rules for Sanchez’s goal. But I would say that this could be classed as an ‘unsportsmanlike’ goal. You wont find such a phrase in said rules but it does exist on the pitch. For example cases when the opposition are supposed to return the ball to the opposition after a break in play as a act of sportsmanship , but instead keep the ball go down the other and score a la Marc Overmars If memory serves for that FA cup game Steve Bruce was Sheff Utd manager and although the goal was not against the rules , a replay was offered by non other than Arsene Wenger. Also circumstances where a team have let one of the opponents walk through to score to even up an ‘unsportsmanlike’ goal at the other end. To think either of those scenarios were possible on Saturday would be dimwitted in the least , but I would say that although Sanchez effort should be allowed under the rules, as an act of sportsmanship it should have been disallowed, and I think that’s what Clattenburg’s apology was for, allowing a goal against the spirit of the game.

  3. Michael Coates
    Michael Coates says:

    The usual good report again. I agree that the handball had doubt about it, but that tackle on Markovic should have seen red.
    I hope Marko Silva can get results from lesser teams now, also performances bring more supporter’s back to the Icon.
    But also I’m afraid our owners will let a good manager slip from our club if he achieves the great escape!
    Silva’s back room team seem to have certainly got the players motivated against the ” big teams” just lately, so please more of the same these next games to the end of the season.
    Then if he succeeds in keeping us up tie him & his staff into longer contracts please.

  4. Brian
    Brian says:

    Unfortunately the ref and linesman got it right about the first goal but totally wrong about the Gibbs incident.Markovic had his best game since University Challenge and rampaging Harry nearly matched him for my man of the match award.Onwards and upwards,the next match being crucial Burnley at home.The demise of Leicester is a curious one so the up-coming game against them will be the ubiquitous 6 pointer.

  5. Jimmy Weekly
    Jimmy Weekly says:

    Now I’ve taken my amber-tinted glasses off, I can agree with your in-depth and informative #4. I like that Amber Nectar can be so unbiased.

  6. Blackadder
    Blackadder says:

    Sorry I don’t agree that referees and their assistants are impartial, too many dodgy decisions happen against unfancied clubs and rarely for them in my opinion. The fact that Clattenburg refused to give a red for such an obvious denial of a goalscoring opportunity says it all. The handball rule is a farce and should be changed to “anytime a ball strikes hand or arm, intentional or not handball should be given”, that would make it easy for referees. Arsenal were gifted a goal by Sanchez’s handball and a player should never benefit from the ball striking his or her hand or arm. Finally, video challenges must be implemented sooner rather than later, humans will always be biased and capable of mistakes, cameras are not.

  7. Bond
    Bond says:

    Having attended the Arsenal game without some of the usual crowd I meet at games, tickets for this game sold out almost 2 weeks prior, partly due to City taking a pitiful low allocation!!
    That in mind can we have an explanation from the club as to why we were sat surrounded by Arsenal fans, with the exception of just a couple of Hull fans behind us, we were surrounded by Arsenal fans, videoing every Arsenal corner near us and throwing arms in the air when they came close to scoring, these were Londoners not northern Arsenal supporters.
    What happened to the club screening ticket applications??
    Also referees however unbiased should just reflect on how much it costs fans in time and money to attend away games after such a dreadful performance from Clattenburg, as well as how it affects the league some clubs play in the next season, these decisions are massive and small clubs seem to be getting a poorer deal year on year with referees. (Ask Mourinho!!)
    Clattenburg really cannot go unpunished!!

  8. Ben
    Ben says:

    Excellent overview of Saturdays game.
    Jakupovic still worries me. Everyone thinks he’s great because he’s a bit of an entertainer and he gets the crowd going. That’s all fine and he has been excellent recently. However the downside is that he has the ability to drop a major clanger which is why Bruce never picked him. He loves to be the centre of attention and Saturdays “charge out” was reckless and ultimately led to Clucas having to handle and being sent off.

  9. hovetiger
    hovetiger says:

    Seems a bit ridiculous that a ball going away from goal can be knocked in by a forwards hand and still be legitimate but, ‘typical City’ I suppose. Does need a look at as rule change though. On the plus side, apart from really slack passing in the first 20 minutes, that was the best we have played at the Emirates and we deserved at least a point. Having said that, they were the worst Arsenal side we have faced- take Sanchez away and they would look very average.
    Real challenge for us comes over the next few weeks; how many times have we played really well against the fancied sides and then collapsed when the pressure has been on against teams around us? Silva has done fantastically well with a series of ‘free hits’- his biggest test will be Burnley, Sunderland at home, and more especially, those away games at Palace, Leicester etc.

  10. JohnK
    JohnK says:

    So please help me understand this. If Sanchez goal was allowed to stand because it was not deliberate, why was Clucas sent off? Check the replays. Clucas had his arm by his side in a natural position, he did not wave at the ball as it came his way. Any touch of the ball by his arm was not intentional and therefore not handball. He was just trying to get his body in the way and by having his arm by his side, I would suggest, was correctly trying not to use his arm or hand. In fact he was deliberately trying to use his chest and body.
    No question Gibbs should have been sent off, if the ref had anything to apologize for it was that decision.
    Anyway the season was not defined by that result, although the performance, and in particular the possession was a demonstration of a team growing in confidence on the ball and overall improving. It is interesting to be talking about an away loss at Arsenal based on freakish decisions and events.
    The next 4 games are however a different story when it comes to season defining moments. 9 from a possible 12 points will with the correct care and attention keep us up in my view. 29 points and 9 games to grab another 9 should be enough to do it. For me the season starts now, or home to Burnley to be more precise.

  11. Officer Crabtree
    Officer Crabtree says:

    “So please help me understand this. If Sanchez goal was allowed to stand because it was not deliberate, why was Clucas sent off?”

    This is part of my problem with the law as it is written. Clucas was seemingly thrusting his chest towards the ball and misjudged, causing the ball to hit his upper arm. There is no way whatsoever of knowing whether or not it was deliberate without entering the inner reaches of Sam Clucas’s psyche, but he does at least have seems to have been making some attempt to stop the ball with another part of his body. A ref can rarely truly know if a handball is deliberate, and yet the vast majority of handball decisions are given for fouls in which you cannot say with any certainty that the offender deliberately handled the ball (as was the case with, say, Thierry Henry v Ireland or Maradona in 86). Yet it would have been ludicrous for the penalty not to have been given and for Clucas to have escaped without some punishment. Just as it seems ludicrous that a player can slap a ball into the net and the goal stands.

    I’m not necessarily disputing what is said in point 4, but the fact that Clattenburg apologised and some high-profile former refs such as Dermot Gallacher have said that Sanchez’s shouldn’t have stood suggests that the whole situation around the handball law needs some tweaking at the very least.

  12. gjhdurham
    gjhdurham says:

    Sorry but this report is really irritating! Bending over to be fair ffs…enough of that! When was it fair to slap a ball into the net? I have a refs qualification too! This was the linesman’s fault, and believe it or not I’ve come across one or two who shouldn’t have been on particular lines, as I knew of predudice/bias. As I’ve run teams, I know it only takes a couple of “mistakes” to influence a game. You missed out bribery in your list of “they’re only human” look at officials. Millions are in involved off field, on field and in betting now. Are you sure officials are not got at? Suspiciously large amount of errors involving London clubs IMO… Video refs would certainly help. The game stops for goals corners and goal kicks, etc anyway. However, it should include offsides as there’s some very dodgy decisions around these, and it’s probably too fast with the current “level when kicked” rule.
    Walcott should have gone too. Threw ball at linesman then gobbled Clattenburg and continued when booked! Thought that had been legislated against….but it was Arsenal!
    The second goal… while chasing the game… wouldn’t have happened with the first disallowed and Gibbs sent off…no matter what the argument on it’s right or wrongs. Bad officials had already set the outcome.
    Elmo a rb…collapses laughing!
    Maguire made more friends with his calm attitude. New contract please…there’s a shortage of good cb s particularly English!
    Onward & Upward!

  13. JohnK
    JohnK says:

    Officer Crabtree, you are spot on. At the very least can we have some consistency.
    Just as an aside. Since the start of Marco’s tenure he has secured an average of 1.4 points per game in the league. If you use this for the next 13 games we will finish on 38 points. Is this enough to stay up?
    Then consider that of the 5 games we have played under him, 4 were against top 4 or 6 sides. Is it too ridiculous to suggest that for the remaining 13 games we could achieve a higher points per game average than achieved in the first 5?
    In fact could we actually finish this roller coaster of a season with a record PL points haul?
    Anyway must go now and polish my rose tinted spectacles……….

  14. Brian Hudson
    Brian Hudson says:

    I agree with most of the sensible points made above, but can I ask a few questions (admittedly from a ‘small’ club’s perspective)? Had that goal been scored by Hull City, would it have been allowed to stand? If the Gibbs’ foul had been by a Hull City player, would it still have been only a yellow card? And, back to the Chelsea game, had Cahill’s foul on Hernandez that led to their first goal been committed by a Hull City player, would play have been allowed to continue? And similarly, would the cast-iron penalty at 0-1 have been given at the other end? Many of my friends (Man. City and Utd. supporters) give the same answers as I suspect most of our fans!

  15. Les
    Les says:

    “The handball rule is a farce and should be changed to “anytime a ball strikes hand or arm, intentional or not handball should be given”, that would make it easy for referees”

    I totally disagree with this. Defenders have a hard enough time defending in an age of treacherous diving forwards and pundits saying ‘entitled to go down on contact’. Now you want to punish defenders for having arms when a ball is blasted against them from close range in the box. I suggest that you’ve not thought this through.

  16. Les
    Les says:

    I’m not sure how video refs are the answer, given that video content will be reviewed by a human being, not a totally impartial robot.

    I think we’d all be better off just accepting that refs are human, they make mistakes, and not be so childish about it all, especially given that they have made a decision without slow motion replays and multiple angles. I’d be interested if any of the howling outraged have ever refereed a game, doing so might change your perspective to the rational a little, unless of course you have a specific allegation of corruption to make gjhdurham.

  17. Rottenborough
    Rottenborough says:

    Isn’t it refreshing to discuss the match for a change, rather than you know who? (And that is not a criticism of TWTWT or AN).

    I thought we deserved at least a draw, and cannot quite believe the transformation since Boro away, and in particular since MS arrived. I hope he stays, even (especially) if we are relegated.

    It looks as tohugh it will be a real dogfight for the third relegation spot. I reckon Sunland and Leicester have had it, and its between us, Palarse, Boro and Swansea.


  18. Jonty
    Jonty says:

    Let’s face it, in the same incident had the ball been prevented from entering the goal by Robertson’s hand in the same way as it was propelled into it by Sanchez’s, we’d have been playing nearly an hour with ten players as in the home game and Arsenal would have had a penalty. So surely it should have been disallowed. And if the assistant didn’t see it what on earth was he looking at – his view was not obscured and that ‘line’ was the ‘offside’ line so he was level with it.

  19. Bill Carson
    Bill Carson says:

    I too passed my referees course and completely agree with GJHDurham.
    That said, this was an excellent, well researched and intelligent TTWT.
    Well done, superb!
    Next up….Why have City been charged for not controlling their players???

  20. John from Brid
    John from Brid says:

    My view on the Clucas hand ball was his arm was in a natural position and it moved away from his body when the ball hit the inside of his arm, no penalty but I am probably the only one who saw it that way.

  21. Paul B
    Paul B says:

    I think that even on here people are in complete disagreement as to whether the Sanchez goal should have stood or not speaks volumes about what a difficult decision it was for the referee and linesman to make. Add in the fact they only got to see it in real-time, from a distance then I think it’s hard to blame anyone for it (other than the rulemakers).

    The Gibbs decision is the one that irks me.

  22. Bill Carson
    Bill Carson says:

    Sorry everyone but whilst I applaud and welcome such a balanced and unbiased assessment of the Arsenal game and in particular the refereeing “performance”, I am astonished by the leniency shown to Mark (For a Few Dollars More) Clattenberk.
    Whatever the finer details in the rule book, you simply cannot punch the ball into the net! Aside from anything else it is simply unsportsmanlike.
    How have we been charged and fined £20,000??? The only candidates for fines were 1. Theo Walnut for his Childish and ill advised tantrum. 2. Clattenberk for such an inept and biased performance.
    As I originally said, great report, well done!

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