After refereeing decisions grabbed the headlines last week following Tottenham’s triumph against Liverpool, PGMOL may have breathed a sigh of relief that a significant decision didn’t alter the result in Arsenal’s encounter with Man City on Sunday.
Had Gabriel Martinelli not struck late on via a terrible Nathan Ake deflection, the discourse after Arsenal’s monumental duel with Manchester City would have been dominated by Mateo Kovacic.
Sunday’s encounter was one of little activity with both managers, both burdened by important absences, clearly eager on going away with a point. After City came close to opening the score from a set piece early on, they seldom got a sniff of David Raya’s goal and while the hosts were boosted by Martinelli’s entrance at half-time, Ederson wasn’t challenged till he was wrong-footed for the winner.
However, if the Gunners hadn’t gotten away with all three points, Gooners would have definitely cried injustice with more force given Kovacic somehow avoided a red card in the first half.
The Croatian midfielder might have been sent off on two occasions before half-time amid a handful of minutes of craziness.
Kovacic’s first challenge on Martin Odegaard was reckless. The Arsenal captain was in an unassuming position receiving William Saliba’s pass when Kovacic went flying in. The City man caught Odegaard slightly above the ankle with his studs elevated.
Michael Oliver was quick to brandish a yellow card but the manner of the challenge ensured VAR had a look for a potential red card. However, Kovacic’s brutal foul wasn’t deemed dangerous enough to overturn Oliver’s on-field decision. Many considered the tackle as deserving of a ‘orange card’; midway between a booking and a sent off. Had Oliver given Kovacic a straight red, VAR likely wouldn’t have intervened.
The more damning call followed just six minutes later, though, when Kovacic again aggressively challenged an Arsenal midfielder. On this occasion, it was Declan Rice who was caught late by the Croatia international, with Sky Sports co-commentator Gary Neville ominously exclaiming “Oh no…” after Kovavic had lunged in without getting a touch of the ball and catching Rice’s ankle.
It felt like an obvious booking when Oliver blew up for the foul, but the referee instead ignored Arsenal’s appeals for Kovacic to receive his marching orders.
“I think he’s lucky, I think he’s really lucky! He gets Rice’s right foot. What is he doing? He should be off,” Neville stated on commentary. That was the prevailing view, with former Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher claiming the combination of Kovacic’s challenges were certainly worthy of a dismissal.
After judging that Oliver hadn’t made a clear and apparent error regarding Kovacic’s tackle on Odegaard which resulted a yellow card, the VAR was left helpless when the referee opted against issuing the midfielder his second caution.
Ever since the technology was introduced to the Premier League, it has only been able to direct the referee’s attention to a prospective red card. The VAR cannot interrupt for decisions involving a probable second yellow card.
While Kovacic’s challenge on Rice was late and clumsy, it certainly wasn’t worthy of a straight red card.