Arsenal given third place lifeline

As Arsenal threw away two vital points in the race for third, Norwich City left the Emirates with a 3-3 draw, after a match that can only be compared with a 90-minute rollercoaster ride.

As Arsene Wenger celebrated his 900th game in charge of the Gunners, the Canaries pounced on Arsenal’s mistakes and were able to grab an excellent point that summed up their impressive first season back in the Premier League. Despite having not won a league match in almost a month, the Gunners are still favourites to finish 3rd and are expected to claim the last place for automatic qualification for next year’s Champions League.

After going behind early through a delightful goal from Yossi Benayoun – who was celebrating his 32nd birthday on the day – Paul Lambert’s side left North London with everything they probably deserved. They were hard working, they never gave up and most importantly, they were able to take their chances when it mattered.

The end-to-end match had everything; six goals, two comebacks, and of course, a catastrophically bad refereeing decision.

Anthony Taylor chose not to award Arsenal a penalty after Robin van Persie was clearly bundled over by a desperate Kyle Naughton. However, for whatever reason, the referee was adamant that it was not a foul. Assuming Robin van Persie would have scored the resulting penalty, it was a hugely poor decision – despite the fact that, oddly, the error seems to have been swept under the carpet by the majority.

To rub salt into the sounds, Naughton – who is currently on-loan from Tottenham – was allowed to finish the game after Taylor also failed to hand out a red card, despite seeing the full back committing an obvious foul in an even more obvious goalscoring opportunity.

I’ve been going to football regularly for over 10 years now and looking back, it was easily one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen. And like many of you I’m sure, I’ve seen a lot of bad decisions along the way.

But in a world where match officials seem to be able to escape any form of criticism – no matter how small – you have to wonder if the FA, and the other governing bodies, are doing enough. I’m not saying that there is, but if there is corruption in our game, it would be impossible to prove – considering how well protected the referees and linesmen are.

They can do so much wrong – yet the only ones who seem to be punished consistently are the managers who, rightly, criticize them when they’ve done something obviously wrong.

At the moment, the FA don’t seem too interested in arranging post-match interviews with match officials. However, if Wayne Rooney were to be dragged down, like RVP was at the weekend, by Sergio Busquets in the last minute of the Euro 2012 final with the score tied at 0-0, and the referee were to wave play on, I wouldn’t be surprised if the FA suddenly became tempted to change their tune.

Back to my point though, I for one would love to see the FA introduce post-match interviews with referees and linesman – if need be.

Even after making an incorrect decision, referees would earn so much more respect if they were to come out after a game and admit that they made a mistake – rather than doing what they do now, letting the FA take the heat off them while they cower in the corner. The obscene fines handed to managers who publicly criticize match officials are never going to help the situation out either.

Although this may surprise you given the tone of the rest of this article, but despite being on the end of another disgraceful refereeing decision, I don’t think Anthony Taylor is the reason why Arsenal drew at the weekend. It’s simple; we just weren’t good enough on the day.

Of course, it would have been nice if Taylor had decided to do his job properly and reward Robin van Persie with a 12-yard chance to put us 4-3 ahead. However, it would have been even nicer if our side could have defended more solidly – and ultimately, we may not have ended up conceding three goals at home to Norwich City.

We’ve already signed Podolski so already, things are looking promising. As long as we don’t leave it all to the last few hours of the summer transfer window again, I believe we can have a quality year next season.

Moving on to this weekend, the Gunners will play their last match of the season as they head to the Hawthorns in another must-win match against West Bromwich Albion.

Let’s face it, with other results continuing to go our way, we’ve been fortunate in recent weeks. We haven’t won since we beat Wolves at Molineux on April 11th yet, somehow, we’re still in 3rd place going into the last game of the season. Without question, we should have wrapped up 3rd place weeks ago, considering how many other games have gone our way. Although right now, I think we’re very fortunate that the position is – still – in our hands to throw away.

With us, Tottenham and Newcastle all dropping points recently, it’s vital we go to the Hawthorns and treat the game like it’s a Cup Final – and preferably, not like a new Wembley Cup Final!

If we can beat West Brom, finish third and secure that last automatic Champions League spot, it will be an achievement we can all enjoy once the season comes to a close on Sunday evening.

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