What impact has VAR had on the standard of refereeing?

Following on from the controversy that unfolded in both the Wolves vs Arsenal and Manchester United vs Southampton games, is it time that the Premier League look at whether VAR has raised the standard of officiating in the ‘best league in the world’?

First and foremost I would like to try and remain as unbiased as possible. As an Arsenal fan we have had quite a few decisions go against us that were pivotal in the outcome of many games this season, so I will try not to pick out any referees in particular. But something must be done.

In case you missed the drama that unfolded in Tuesday nights games, there were two red cards in both the Wolves vs Arsenal and in the Manchester United vs Southampton games. Both were given to the same team in each game, Arsenal receiving two in the early kick off and Southampton in the following game.

In both games, the first red card had a major impact on the outcome of the game, Southampton losing a by a staggering 9 goals, and Arsenal losing 2-1, but were on top until the controversial sending off of David Luiz. 

The dismissal of Alexandre Jankewitz was a fair decision, with the debutant challenging McTominay too high and with his studs showing. It is also important to note that the second red card against Arsenal was also very fair with keeper Bernd Leno handling the ball outside the area.

It is the other two dismissals that have caused a large number of fans to question the refereeing in the Premier League. Firstly, the David Luiz red card. At first glance you would think it was a nailed on red card as it looked like the veteran Brazilian defender had prevented a goal scoring opportunity, and that is what referee Craig Pawson saw and gave the red card and a penalty.

However, in the slowed down replays it shows that Willian Jose was the one to initiate contact, as the bottom of his foot slightly clipped the knee of Luiz. You could clearly see this in the slowed down replay, which is available to both the referee and VAR. 

Jan Bednarek’s red card was given for a similar ‘challenge’, he was closing down Martial and the French forward was falling before any contact was made. When walking off the pitch, cameras picked up Bednarek saying “Martial said it’s not a foul”, whilst looking fairly confused at the decision. However in this instance the referee for that game, Mike Dean, actually went over to the VAR screen to have a look.

Even though both cards were given for slightly different challenges, the ruling behind them seems to be the same. Peter Walton, an ex referee who gives his insight to refereeing decisions on BT Sport told the panel that “It doesn’t matter whether the contact made was accidental or not”, and seemed adamant that both red cards should stand as they both denied a clear goal scoring opportunity. 

However since then, both Arsenal and Southampton appealed against these red cards, with Southamptons being overturned and Arsenal’s upheld. If they were given for the same reasons then why has one been overturned and the other not? Again, Peter Walton explained this decision by saying that the FA panel will have had different agendas to the on pitch referee, therefore one was changed and the other wasn’t. 

However the only reason as to why David Luiz’s ban was not rescinded was due to his track record with getting red cards and giving away penalties (more than any other player in the Premier League last season). Is it not the job of the referee not to officiate the game in a fair and lawful way? This doesn’t sound very ‘fair’ to me. 

Not only have former referees publicly disagreed with the decision to send David Luiz off but Chelsea legend, John Terry, commented on Sports Bible’s instagram post saying “Never a red card”. The backlash that VAR has received from not overturning this decision prompted Peter Walton to reiterate that “VAR is not there to make the correct decision”, so what is it there for?

Personally, I believe that the role of VAR should be to make sure that all decisions made by the referee are correct and haven’t had an unfair impact on the game, for either team. We are still seeing some clear mistakes made by referees slip through VAR unnoticed, and I don’t believe that it has raised the standards of refereeing in the Premier League but in fact hindered it.

Referees have become more sloppy as they believe that if they miss something VAR will pick it up. I also think that the on field referees have become less responsible for their actions on the pitch due to the same reason as before. Unfortunately I’m not sure if there are many quick and simple solutions to the problem. 

One that springs to mind is to use VAR as a separate entity. By this I mean not using actual referees as the person in charge of reviewing the footage, and have separate trained individuals doing this instead. So instead of seeing Jon Moss as the Video Assistant Referee it will be someone who has trained specifically for the role.

They do this very efficiently in rugby, where they have a TMO (television match official) who will look at controversial moments during the game, and help the referee make a decision. This person is not an official referee and is only used to assist the referee during the course of the game.

This does not only eradicate any potential agendas the referees may have against a particular player or team, but puts more pressure on the referee to make the correct decision as they are the only ‘official’ referee who can make a defining decision, hopefully making the game fairer.

By James Bousfield

Twitter – @jamesbousfi3ld

Do you think VAR has decreased the quality of refereeing in the Premier League? Let us know in the comments below and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook!

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