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VAR controversies prompt calls for action in Premier League

VAR was supposed to help cut out egregious and costly refereeing mistakes but the technology has come under heavy fire from Premier League managers who have lost faith in the system. 

The video assistant referee was introduced in the 2019/20 season for “clear and obvious errors” or “serious missed incidents” in specific situations.

The promise was that it would lead to “more correct and fairer judgements”, even though the Premier League conceded that 100 per cent accuracy was impossible.

But feelings are running high after high-profile incidents that have overshadowed the action on the pitch.

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta launched a blistering attack on the decision to let Newcastle’s goal stand after his team’s 1-0 defeat last weekend, labelling it a “disgrace”.

Anthony Gordon’s second-half goal was checked for three separate VAR offences but survived them all to earn Newcastle the three points.

“We didn’t deserve to lose the match,” Arteta told Sky Sports. “We lost the match because of the clear and obvious decisions. It’s embarrassing. A disgrace.”

The Spaniard’s comments were made in the heat of the moment but the club came out strongly in support of their manager in a statement the following day.

“Arsenal Football Club wholeheartedly supports Mikel Arteta’s post-match comments after yet more unacceptable refereeing and VAR errors on Saturday evening,” Arsenal said.

‘Sporting integrity’

The angry fallout after the game at St James’ Park echoed another VAR controversy in the high-stakes fixture between Tottenham and Liverpool in late September.

Officials wrongly disallowed a goal from Luis Diaz after a misunderstanding over the on-field decision and Spurs went on to win 2-1 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Referees body Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL) released the audio of the decision that led to the disallowed Diaz goal. 

In the recording, video assistant referee Darren England says the check is “perfect” before swearing when he realises a mistake has been made. “They’ve restarted the game. Can’t do anything, can’t do anything,” he adds in exasperation.

PGMOL admitted a “significant human error” and Liverpool issued a statement in which they said “sporting integrity” had been undermined.

“We fully accept the pressures that match officials work under but these pressures are supposed to be alleviated, not exacerbated, by the existence and implementation of VAR,” the club said.

Manager Jurgen Klopp even called for the game to be replayed.

Wolves have far more cause for complaint, with four high-profile penalty decisions going against them, potentially with far-reaching consequences.

Arteta stuck to his guns before Arsenal’s Champions League match against Sevilla this week, suggesting it was the duty of managers to discuss the issues around the use of VAR.

“Errors are part of evolution,” he said. “The trajectory is never going to be (always upwards), there are always going to be bumps in the road and these things are necessary to improve the game in the right way.

“But we have to talk loudly. If you have a problem and you put it in your drawer, the problem is in the drawer and it’s going to stink at some point.” 

League Managers Association chief executive Richard Bevan says coaches want to see changes—including the video assistant referee working with the same referee each week.

“PGMOL have confirmed to us that they are actively looking at how best to incorporate VARs into match-day refereeing teams, to ensure the dynamic between on-field referee and VAR is conducive to producing positive outcomes,” Bevan told the Daily Mail.

“The managers are also calling for a review (and simplification) of the interpretation of the term ‘clear and obvious’ in VAR decision-making, as this is a cause of much confusion at present.”

Henry Winter, chief football writer for The Times, urged the Premier League to listen to the managers of its clubs.

“Anyone who attends a game or watches on television knows that VAR has never been more contentious,” he said.

“Some grown-up debate is required. The starting point is that, love it or loathe it, VAR is here to stay. 

“We live in a technological age and other sports have embraced it successfully, so it’s about English football getting it right.”

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