Forget Chelsea or Arsenal, referee takes centre-stage at Wembley

What should have been a thrilling cup final was marred by a poor performance from the referee and VAR.

Upon watching Arsenal and Mikel Arteta lift the FA Cup trophy, I was surprised to see one man missing from the celebrations: referee Anthony Taylor.

In all seriousness, hats off to the Gunners for a worthy performance in a cup final, and they may have won based on their own merit anyway. However, I would be remiss if I did not mention some of the awful decisions against Chelsea that could’ve changed everything.

The way I see it, there were four controversial game-changing decisions that were given the way of Arteta’s side, some of which were more egregious than others. Let’s start with the most unforgivable of errors.

That is, of course, the sending off of Mateo Kovacic. Having already received a harsh yellow card for very minimal contact on an Arsenal midfielder, he then came into contact with Granit Xhaka just after Arsenal’s second goal.

During this play, Xhaka trapped Kovacic’s foot, which is a foul in itself, and then fell down claiming it was the other way around and the Croatian tripped him. Not only did Taylor call it in Arsenal’s favor, but he also gave a second yellow to Kovacic for this challenge.

That play in itself is absolutely unforgivable, especially with VAR to back him up. If they cannot intervene in this type of match-altering moments, then what good is it? I am all for VAR, but it has been applied very poorly in English football so far.

Another very controversial play was the alleged handball of Emiliano Martinez outside the box. A ball was played to Tammy Abraham, and he was about to get on the end of it before the Arsenal keeper plucked it out of the air.

To the naked eye, it seemed like a handball, which would’ve been a red card as well, and the replays seemed to show the Argentine catching the ball outside of his penalty area. Reports later surfaced that the evidence was fake, leading to even more discussion.

The fact of the matter is, that play was not even looked at by VAR, nor was it even played back on live television. A situation that was contentious enough to warrant such arguments from both sides, and looked a handball, wasn’t even reviewed by the officials.

Again, if they don’t review key plays, then the question has to be asked, what are they actually doing? Are they watching a movie or are they trying to referee a game of football? At this point, who knows.

Next, we go to the second Arsenal goal, scored by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The goal itself was excellently taken, but the play leading up to it was the questionable decision.

Hector Bellerin drove forward from the back but left his final touch too heavy, heavy enough for Andreas Christensen to come in and tackle the ball away. In the process, Bellerin went in on the young Dane, leaving him on the ground and Nicolas Pepe picked up the ball.

Looking back on it, Christensen won the ball and was then tackled by a player going for it. The intent to win the ball was clear, which is why no further action should’ve been taken against Bellerin, but it was certainly a foul, which would’ve ruled out the goal.

In any other situation (not a promising counterattack) I have no doubt the foul would’ve been called. It’s so simple: if you try to get the ball but instead get the man it’s a foul, it’s what you’re taught as a schoolboy. Why is that not applied at the professional level?

Lastly, there is the question of the penalty against Cesar Azpilicueta, which Aubameyang converted. The ball went in behind, and the Chelsea skipper was adjudged to have pulled Aubameyang down. Replays showed contact, but very minimal contact.

More often than not, that penalty would not be given, but it was a case of it not having enough in it for VAR to call it a clear and obvious error. Had Taylor not given it, they probably wouldn’t have intervened either.

This decision is certainly understandable, and some of the other decisions could also be understandable if it happened once in a game. But there were four of these in a cup final. How can the FA let such an important game be refereed in this way?

If these controversial calls had gone Chelsea’s way, both goals would’ve been ruled out, they wouldn’t have gone a man down, and Arsenal may have had to put an outfield player in goal with Martinez being their only fit keeper.

We can’t get hung up on that, of course, and Arsenal did deserve their trophy to be fair, but it’s pretty clear that with a different ref, it would’ve been a different result.

Taylor refereed the FA Cup final between these sides three years ago, too, and also made some controversial decisions in Arsenal’s favor. This was nothing like that, though, this was straight-up shocking from him.

The full-match stats showed 14 fouls by Chelsea to just two from Arsenal. That is almost impossible. A team that plays competitively for over 90 minutes does not get just two fouls. Two fouls. I can’t bring myself to believe it.

There is a reason not a single English referee was chosen for the 2018 World Cup, and on the basis of this performance, there shouldn’t be any in 2022 either. Taylor essentially gave the game to Arsenal, regardless of whether or not they deserved it.

True, this is not why the Blues lost, but they were never given a chance to win. In the words of Chelsea legend Didier Drogba (the clean version), suffering a similar fate in 2009, it’s a disgrace.