Arsenal's Kieran Gibbs is sent off by referee Andre Marriner.
John Sibley/Action Images
LONDON (AP) English referee Andre Marriner might just have done a favor for every neutral football fan who wants to watch the better team win.
Marriner made a huge blunder in one of the biggest matches of the Premier League season on Saturday, sending off the wrong Arsenal player for a handball against Chelsea. By now, the red-card gaffe has been replayed even more than the six goals Chelsea put past a hapless Arsenal side. And Marriner will struggle to live it down.
Cue the calls for technology.
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”It is a big help against these kinds of mistakes,” Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said after the match.
A big help, and a seemingly easy fix for arguably the biggest football league in the world.
It all happened early in Saturday’s game at Stamford Bridge, when an Arsenal player blatantly handled on the goal-line, executing a diving save that the world’s top goalkeepers would have been proud of. And with little hesitation from Marriner, defender Kieran Gibbs was then dismissed.
The one small problem was that it was actually Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain that performed the acrobatic move to block the shot from Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard.
Millions of fans watching on television around the world were treated again and again to replays from various angles showing Oxlade-Chamberlain bat the ball away.
Not one of them made any difference on the field as Gibbs trotted off in confusion.
Still, some can’t quite understand why the fourth official – the one that checks the studs on the bottom of an oncoming player’s boots and raises the sign to show the crowd how many minutes of injury time will be played – can’t consult a television screen with replays.
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini is one of them.
”You can’t review every play, if it is a foul or not a foul, but if it is penalty or free kick, outside or inside (the box),” Pellegrini said Monday. ”(Technology) is not changing the criteria, just helping the referee. Play is very quick and he can’t know the exact position of the player.”
The guys at the top – FIFA President Sepp Blatter and UEFA counterpart Michel Platini – are not as convinced as Mourinho and Pellegrini.
Blatter has finally agreed to goal-line technology – and the system has been introduced in the Premier League this season – but he has feared that cameras would eventually play a bigger, more important role.
Platini has been even more traditional, trying to block any non-human intervention so the game retains the unpredictable elements that sometimes infuriate managers and players but enthrall fans.
Moments after Gibbs was sent off on Saturday, UEFA used the error to advance its own cause.
Platini’s media chief, Pedro Pinto, tweeted within minutes how an extra official positioned by the goal – as in the Champions League – would have identified the hand-ball offender for Marriner.
”More eye balls are the answer,” Pinto tweeted.
Few will argue that, but where the eyeballs are is another point to be sure.
Marriner, who spent Monday at a scheduled gathering of officials to pore over recent contentious calls, said he apologized to Arsenal for the blunder.
The Professional Game Match Officials organization is now collating Saturday’s evaluation report from the match delegate and the evaluator who marks the referee’s performance based on videos and technical data. The final score determines Marriner’s position in the secret referee rankings – and who gets the big games and end-of-season bonuses.
On Monday, the Premier League referees’ body showed it still trusts Marriner. Rather than being dropped this weekend, as happens so often for officials after high-profile mistakes, Marriner will oversee Southampton’s match against Newcastle.
With every Premier League game on live TV somewhere in the world, Marriner’s decisions will be scrutinized again on Saturday when Newcastle visits.