Both teams were left with reasons to complain about referee Howard Webb after Arsenal’s 2-1 victory over Liverpool Sunday at the Emirates, but with the Gunners on to the FA Cup’s quarterfinals, only one team was harmed by the game’s controversial decisions. Seeing Arsenal get a small bit of revenge for the 5-1 loss they suffered at Anfield, Liverpool were left to bemoan what ifs after Webb’s whistle failed to the Reds a crucial late call.
“[We] are bitterly disappointed not to get something and not to get another penalty, which I thought was a blatant penalty,” Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers told BT Sport after the match, as relayed by the Independent.
The controversial non-call occurred late, after Liverpool had already been awarded a penalty when Lukas Podolski brought down Luis Suárez. The second incident came after a blocked free kick was followed by Suárez working his way into the penalty area. This time, however, contact from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlian failed to draw a call from the official.
“It was probably more clear and blatant than the first,” Rodgers said, later going on to say “I thought the best team lost.”
To the extent they reflect the actual action, the numbers support Rodgers’ claim. Liverpool dominated possession (57 percent) and put seven shots on target to Arsenal’s three, and while much of that can be attributed to the fact Oxlade-Chamberlain put the Gunners up in the 16th minute, Liverpool still controlled the game.
But claiming control of a game reflects your worthiness to win is as short-sighted as saying all calls should go in your favor, or implying every infraction in the penalty area is always called. There’s an inherent variability to the game that you have to not only accept but overcome. The variability includes matches where a referees’ decisions harm you more than your opponents. The best teams find a way to deal with these circumstances.
Howard Webb may have made mistakes on Sunday, but Liverpool did, too. They failed to adjust to a set of circumstances that worked in Arsenal’s favor. While Rodgers can complain about Webb’s performance, he should also ask why his players failed to respond.