Sunday’s FA Cup match between Arsenal against Liverpool was superb. A classic cup tie with end-to-end goalmouth action resulted in a 2-1 victory for the Gunners, against an in-form Liverpool looking to build on a 5-1 demolition of Arsenal, only a week ago.
However, this game was packed with controversial decisions. From penalty appeals to red card claims, this game had it all. So, what did Howard Webb get right or wrong?
By far the most controversial moment in this game was the decision not to award Luis Suarez a second penalty after a collision with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The ball had been shifted wide of Chamberlain before his momentum followed through into the Uruguayan. On first look, I thought it was a dubious decision by Webb not to award the penalty. This instinct was proven correct by the replays, which showed that Chamberlain had body-checked Suarez, obstructing him from moving to the ball. The only reasoning I can provide in Webb’s defense is the theatrical fall from Suarez. Don’t get me wrong, I believe it was a definite penalty, but Suarez’s reaction must have put an element of doubt in the referee’s mind, therefore not awarding the penalty. The reaction of players should not matter, but unfortunately it does. Arsenal and Chamberlain can count themselves very lucky. BT Sport co-commentator Andy Gray described the incident as a “stone wall penalty” and I find it very difficult to argue against his point of view.
Its very easy to comment on the replays, but Webb’s positioning was ideal, around 10 yards from the incident. As a referee, you couldn’t wish for better positioning, which makes the decision to turn down appeals all the more strange. I think he will realize when he watches it back that he made a mistake, but no referee is perfect. I am fully confident that Webb will find his A-game soon and continue to be one of, if not the best refs in the world.
Earlier in the game, at 2-0 to Arsenal, Suarez was felled in the box by Lukas Podolski. There was minimal contact, but it was sufficient enough for the penalty to be awarded. A fantastic decision by Webb, who had many bodies to look through, to spot the foul. Suarez had a lot to do to create a scoring opportunity, but a clumsy tackle gave Suarez the perfect chance win the spot kick.
Steven Gerrard was correctly booked for a cynical foul on Podolski in the first half. The ball had long left the ex-Bayern Munich youngster before the England skipper took his legs from behind him. It was an easy decision for Webb to award a yellow card as Gerrard knew what he was doing, denying Arsenal a fast counter attack. Later in the game, with the score at 2-1, Gerrard took a huge risk, attempting a sliding tackle on Chamberlain. On first look, I was certain that he was going to be sent off for a second bookable offence. I was surprised that he escaped punishment as it was a reckless tackle from behind and as the picture shows, it was nearly impossible to make contact with the ball from his position, without going through the Ox.
Finally, in this action packed game, Raheem Sterling was adamant that he was fouled by Laurent Koscielny, which is arguable. However, Sterling then shouted at Webb, looking for a free kick before he raised his hands to Webb and touched his chest area. A certain case for a yellow card for dissent. Webb called captain Steven Gerrard over for a consultation, which resulted in Webb showing his leniency where a more experienced player may have been shown a yellow card. Sterling is young, but needs to learn that showing dissent isn’t going to achieve anything in the modern game.
Overall, a below par game from Webb, but all refs have good and bad games and even highly experienced refs such as Webb can make mistakes. They are human, after all.