Discussing a big decision in a big game, the PK and red card in Arsenal-Manchester City

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Just nine minutes into Arsenal’s important meeting at home against Manchester City, this one took a fast turn toward the lesser fancied Sunday morning nether region of: “Uh, what time do those NFL playoff games start?”

That is to say, it was very nearly not worth watching.

Not because these two well-stocked clubs don’t deserve watching; both have exciting players and both are desperately chasing their own Premiership rewards. Rather, the watchability factor slipped because of a 9th minute incident that tilted the field heavily.

Sure enough, visiting City was in charge through much of the match and emerged with the 2-0 result.

Arsenal center back Laurent Koscielny was all over City striker Edin Dzeko as a ball dropped perilously in front of Gunners goal, blatantly wrapping both arms around the Bosnian striker. Both tumbled as Dzeko moved in for a potential early strike. Referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot, held up the red and … well, let’s talk about it:

  • It’s a tough call to make so early, but Dean made the right one (on the penalty kick, at least.) If Koscielny could have merely put a body on Dzeko, perhaps even laid an arm into him, that might have provided Dean sufficient cover to wave “play-on” or to think twice the expulsion, at least. More to the point, it might not have actually been a blatant foul. As it was, it’s a foul – and therefore a penalty kick.
  • It’s a brutal development, affecting the match so dramatically, so early. But as the game’s laws are written, Dean was mostly correct here. It’s a bold, bold call and Dean is no dummy; he recognizes exactly how much moment is altering fortunes.
  • For the reason I just stated – the titanic impact, that is – I wonder if City might have complained too much if Dean would have awarded the penalty kick and kept Koscielny on the field? I tend to believe most of us would have had little problem with that.
  • I’ve said before, I really wish the game’s lawmakers would review the double jeopardy involved in these decisions. Awarding a penalty kick (about 80 percent chance of scoring) and reducing a side to 10 men is so very harsh. I understand the argument: “Don’t foul!”  But we know there is so very much fouling and contact that goes on near goal. So these important decisions inside the 18 aren’t really about fouling, per se.  So much of that does go on.  It really comes down to chance and providence; it’s really more about which clear fouls are spotted by the man in the middle.

I said “double jeopardy” on the decision. I noticed a few minutes later where NBC colleague and pal Arlo White reminded mentioned on Twitter that my assessment may be a tad low:

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