Chelsea, Arsenal, and the recurring shame of English refereeing
Chelsea did not lose the FA Cup because of abysmal refereeing. But they never had a chance to win it for the very same reason.
Chelsea knows the pain of a bad referee more than most. Tom Henning Ovrebo’s name is infamous in Blues lore. That game, not just a disgrace because Didier Drogba said so, is burned into the minds of many.
But Ovrebo is just one ref. Anthony Taylor is another. Allegedly. That was the name of the person who was allowed to officiate the FA Cup final against Arsenal at least. One would assume that he is fully qualified to perform the role. Of course, one would assume that about all of England’s referee’s but time and time again they raise doubts.
Back in 2018, when England, one of the world’s leaders in the sport, had zero referees invited to the World Cup, that should have been a warning sign. It was not. If anything, the Football Association looked inward and said “nope, everyone else must be wrong”. The standard, whatever that was before, has only gotten worse since. The inclusion of VAR only made it worse despite literally every other league and footballing pyramid figuring out how to at least make it passable.
Returning to the FA Cup, Mateo Kovacic was the early victim. Could his tackle have been a yellow? Sure, but the same can be said about Granit Xhaka’s against him. Both were reckless. If one got yellow, they both should have.
Kovacic’s victimization was completed when it was his foot brought under Xhaka’s later in the match. Who got the yellow (and thus the red card)? Why, Kovacic of course.
Oh, and apparently keepers can catch the ball outside the box now. As Emiliano Martinez came rushing out of the box to make a claim, it was clear that he was outside the box. Taylor waved it off. VAR was not consulted. Nothing was done at all. The rules apparently do not matter anymore.
The penalty could have gone either way but it is hard to deny that it was soft. The contact started outside the box and as soon as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang felt any contact inside the box, he dropped. Cesar Azpilicueta should have got his hands away but there was no pulling or holding. Taylor and VAR “reviewed” it and decided it should be a penalty.
They did not decide the same about dozens of other incidents by Arsenal players against Chelsea players. If only the Blues were so lucky. Chelsea had nine fouls at half time to Arsenal’s zero. The match ended at two and 14 fouls. It is nearly impossible to play over 100 minutes of football (thanks added time) and have just two fouls.
This has all been present all season. Ask Bournemouth how they feel about VAR looking back over the course of the season. Or Manchester United’s copious amounts of penalties given. Look at all the dubious calls throughout the season. Every sport and match has bad calls, but it has become the norm in England. The game becomes less about the two teams playing and more about who the ref fancies on the day. It is his show and everyone else is just invited.
Chelsea did not play well enough to win the FA Cup. This is not in denial of that. But in the FA Cup final, one of the most prestigious trophies in the world even if its luster has faded, is refereed like this? If the season of the best league in the world is refed like this? Something has to change. Because this cannot be acceptable.