VAR provided fans with another moment of controversy during Arsenal's 2-1 loss to Manchester City. It's another sign that the process hasn't been fully thought through.
It started when Takehiro Tomiyasu won the ball in his own half.
Arsenal moved the ball through midfield before Bukayo Saka angled his run into the box from the right wing. That run created space for Martin Odegaard to break into. His first touch pushed the ball just too far and too wide, taking away his chance to shoot. Odegaard stepped his left leg in front of the oncoming Ederson.
Stuart Atwell did not have a good view of the incident and pointed for a corner.
VAR reviewed the incident and although it used a plethora of angles, there was no clear and obvious evidence to overturn the decision. Atwell's initial decision stood because of that. But Atwell, as referees so often do, was largely just guessing with that initial decision. He was too far away and didn't have the angle to properly see the contact.
That's inevitable for referees. They are one person trying to see everything at once from every angle in a sport that moves at constant speed.
And that's where the problem lies.
If the Premier League are committing to using VAR, then they need to stop deferring to the decision on the field when it's not clear and obvious. The VAR officials have every angle of every incident, they can change speeds and rewatch everything that happens as many times as they choose to.
Even if they cannot get conclusive evidence, they are in a better position than the referee to make an educated decision. By every measure, they are in a better position to make the right decision than the referee on the field is. The NFL in America established this blueprint. The decision on the field overrides any compelling evidence in review unless the compelling evidence is inarguable.
It's supposed to avoid taking control away from the officials of the field and completely override the human element. But the purpose of VAR is to override the human element. By defaulting to the first decision on the field, VAR is neither making the right decision nor helping the referee.
VAR is supposed to get things right, it's certainly not there to speed the game up or make it a more enjoyable experience for fans.
— ArsenalVideo (@arsenal_video) January 1, 2022
VAR defeats itself by defaulting to the referee's instinctual decision rather than the evidence of the first replay in the above video. That first replay shows that it's very unlikely Ederson got the ball first. You can clearly see Odegaard's foot between the ball and Ederson's studs.
The referee saw the ball redirect and the timing of it made sense because of that. If the referee made his first decision watching the angle of the first replay, would it have been the same call?
Arsenal eventually went 1-0 up. Bukayo Saka scored. But Manchester City scored in the final minutes to win 2-1. Arsenal made enough mistakes that they didn't deserve to win the game. Yet it's hard to argue with the fans who argued about the referee at the end of the game.
But of course, the referee is just taking the blame for a VAR system that simply doesn't work.
Sports should either fully embrace technology or fully embrace the human element of officiating. The Premier League does neither. Fans suffer for it. Players suffer for it. And referees suffer for it.
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