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Discussing a big decision in a big game, the PK and red card in Arsenal-Manchester City

Jan 13, 2013, 12:40 PM EDT

Arsenal v Manchester City - Premier League Getty Images

Just nine minutes into Arsenal’s important meeting at home against Manchester City, this one took a fast turn toward the lesser fancied Sunday morning nether region of: “Uh, what time do those NFL playoff games start?”

That is to say, it was very nearly not worth watching.

Not because these two well-stocked clubs don’t deserve watching; both have exciting players and both are desperately chasing their own Premiership rewards. Rather, the watchability factor slipped because of a 9th minute incident that tilted the field heavily.

Sure enough, visiting City was in charge through much of the match and emerged with the 2-0 result.

Arsenal center back Laurent Koscielny was all over City striker Edin Dzeko as a ball dropped perilously in front of Gunners goal, blatantly wrapping both arms around the Bosnian striker. Both tumbled as Dzeko moved in for a potential early strike. Referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot, held up the red and … well, let’s talk about it:

  • It’s a tough call to make so early, but Dean made the right one (on the penalty kick, at least.) If Koscielny could have merely put a body on Dzeko, perhaps even laid an arm into him, that might have provided Dean sufficient cover to wave “play-on” or to think twice the expulsion, at least. More to the point, it might not have actually been a blatant foul. As it was, it’s a foul – and therefore a penalty kick.
  • It’s a brutal development, affecting the match so dramatically, so early. But as the game’s laws are written, Dean was mostly correct here. It’s a bold, bold call and Dean is no dummy; he recognizes exactly how much moment is altering fortunes.
  • For the reason I just stated – the titanic impact, that is – I wonder if City might have complained too much if Dean would have awarded the penalty kick and kept Koscielny on the field? I tend to believe most of us would have had little problem with that.
  • I’ve said before, I really wish the game’s lawmakers would review the double jeopardy involved in these decisions. Awarding a penalty kick (about 80 percent chance of scoring) and reducing a side to 10 men is so very harsh. I understand the argument: “Don’t foul!”  But we know there is so very much fouling and contact that goes on near goal. So these important decisions inside the 18 aren’t really about fouling, per se.  So much of that does go on.  It really comes down to chance and providence; it’s really more about which clear fouls are spotted by the man in the middle.

I said “double jeopardy” on the decision. I noticed a few minutes later where NBC colleague and pal Arlo White reminded mentioned on Twitter that my assessment may be a tad low:


  1. charliej11 - Jan 13, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    I will go look up who won.

    • Steve Davis - Jan 13, 2013 at 12:53 PM

      Or, you could wait until the game is over … at which point I will happily update the post with the result :)

  2. spartyfi - Jan 13, 2013 at 2:12 PM

    I was so mad. Rarely get a chance to watch my team, Arsenal, and that happens 9 minutes in. Lame! Turned it off.

  3. dfstell - Jan 13, 2013 at 2:53 PM

    It was a bummer all around. I’m a United fan and having just watched them beat Liverpool to go 10 points up briefly, I was looking forward to Arsenal giving City a test.

    I know that this is the way the rules are written and the refs have to follow the rules, but – as a newer soccer fan – there are a lot of rules and outcomes that are really harsh and binary. I mean….why does a sending off always have to be for the whole game? What if there was an outcome where the guy is sent off for 45 minutes and then can come back? Or leave it to the referees discretion where you’re gone for the entire remainder of the game if it is a foul that is unsafe but it’s only 45 minutes it it is safe, but one of those “last man” type of fouls? Or, why do all penalty kicks have to be from the same spot? You have blatant penalties like this one we’re talking about, but it seems weird that the reward is sometimes the same for questionable handballs in the box. Maybe in those cases give a PK, but it is from the 18 yard line?

    I know that suggestions like this make soccer purists throw up in their mouth a little bit and that part of the magic of soccer lies in these wacky binary outcomes…..Still, there’s room for improvement….

  4. geo91 - Jan 13, 2013 at 5:14 PM

    City was going to win either way to be totally honest

  5. bellerophon30 - Jan 13, 2013 at 5:18 PM

    I agree that it was a bit harsh, given the time of the game…..but c’mon, Koscielny bearhugged him for crying out loud. It was an American football tackle, right in front of the goal. I know it wasn’t a violent studs up challenge (which is not what happened with Kompany mind you), but it’s the next thing.

    Did it screw Arsenal? Yep…….but tell them to coach their players not to be quite so obvious.

  6. wfjackson3 - Jan 14, 2013 at 7:41 AM

    This is a real stretch for me. There is no argument that anyone could reasonably offer to defend Koscielny. Arsenal deserved to go down a man and give up a penalty kick. It’s really that simple.

    And all of this “ruined the game” talk doesn’t make sense to me. Stuff happens in the run of play, including going down a man. It is part of the game and it is all interesting when viewed through the lens of “how will they react to this one.”

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