In one of the most bizarre sequences you’ll see in the Premier League this year, Arsenal scored the opening goal against Manchester United on Thursday with the goalkeeper on the goal line in the fetal position with his back to play.
Arsenal midfielder Emile Smith Rowe scored on a shot at a virtual empty net, but referee Martin Atkinson initially disallowed the goal. The assumption was that a foul was committed on Man United ‘keeper David De Gea.
MORE: Live updates, highlights from Arsenal-Man Utd
But the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) checked the play and saw that De Gea was actually nicked by his own teammate Fred and immediately went down in agony, turning his back to the action. And since the referee at no point whistled play dead, the VAR alerted the referee and the goal was allowed to stand.
Watch the play below:
Was it fair play by Arsenal?
Arsenal didn’t do anything wrong on the play and had the right to continue playing and take the shot.
Although they were under no obligation to do so, the Gunners could have also kicked the ball out of play to allow De Gea to receive treatment instead of taking a shot on a defenseless goal.
MORE: How Arteta is restoring Arsenal’s lost soul
Some on social media made the argument that Arsenal should have allowed Man United to go down the field and score a goal to even up the score as a matter of good sportsmanship. That wasn’t happening.
Many have also been critical of De Gea going down too easily and not making an attempt to follow play, at least giving himself a chance at a save if he could pull it off.
Should the referee have whistled play dead?
The referee is under no obligation to whistle, except if there’s a head injury, when players are allowed to receive immediate treatment.
But the referee also has the complete discretion to blow the match dead and Atkinson probably would have done so had he had more time.
MORE: Why no VAR in CONCACAF WC qualifying?
“Normally when the ‘keeper goes down, we should stop the game, but mistakes happen,” Man United midfielder Bruno Fernandes said postgame. “Players make mistakes. I don’t know if the referee made one.”
You can’t help but wonder whether the referee had this instance in the back of his head when Arsenal had a penalty-kick shout just before halftime. Replays showed defender Harry Maguire to have pulled down Takehiro Tomiyasu by the arm, but there was no whistle and the same VAR who had no choice but to allow the Arsenal goal did not signal a clear and obvious error.
The debate around this goal will rage on for a few days, at least if the social media reaction is any indication:
Fair play doesn’t exist then?
— Mark Goldbridge (@markgoldbridge) December 2, 2021
The annoying thing there is that Atkinson was about to blow his whistle and then just didn’t bother
— Si Lloyd (@SmnLlyd5) December 2, 2021
Sure it hurt when Fred stood on his ankle, but De Gea has to do everything he can to stay up until the ball goes out of play. Can’t have been that bad if he was up a minute later. Not sure how United can argue the goal shouldn’t have stood.
— Rob Dawson (@RobDawsonESPN) December 2, 2021
I tell you what, Smith Rowe is lucky that Gary Neville or Roy Keane ain’t playing. he’d be in for some rigorous treatment if they were.
— Muhammad Butt (@muhammadbutt) December 2, 2021
Your goalkeeper’s gotta have at least a dislocation to go down like that, there, with all that going on.
— Rupert Fryer (@Rupert_Fryer) December 2, 2021
Getting stepped on with cleats obviously hurts like hell but this man laid down and faced the crowd in the fetal position https://t.co/zgSLRMYEIk
— Mark Yesilevskiy (@MarkWhyy) December 2, 2021
Fred fouling De Gea. United players protesting. I’m crying
— Renato (@rehnato) December 2, 2021
Yeah, sorry Manchester United. There was no whistle. And you can’t foul / injure your own keeper to stop a chance. #Arsenal correctly awarded the goal. VAR seemingly did the job.
— The Short Fuse (@TheShortFuse) December 2, 2021
Remember Bielsa and Leeds United, the world’s morally correct football club, giving a goal back in this circumstance? And how none of the fans, not least myself in the north stand, disagreed with that at all
— Amitai Winehouse (@awinehouse1) December 2, 2021
I’d would’ve let Man U run up the other end and score 🥴
— 𝐓𝐫𝐨𝐲 𝐓𝐨𝐰𝐧𝐬𝐞𝐧𝐝 (@Towno10) December 2, 2021
Fred fouling his own keeper to let Arsenal score is absolutely next level Fred
— Football Ramble (@FootballRamble) December 2, 2021
I’m surprised it’s given – there’s no justification in law for not giving it, but Atkinson should 100% have blown when he saw De Gea down. He didn’t. He waited to see what would happen. Once it happens, he can’t not give it. Really poor reffing, but right from the VAR
— Jonny Singer (@Jonny_Singer) December 2, 2021
It is a curious goal but one of the easiest to call for a referee with support from the VAR.
— Alvaro Romeo (@Alvaro_Romeo) December 2, 2021
Just when you think the mess at Man United couldn’t get worse, they go and outdo themselves.
— Leanne Prescott (@_lfcleanne) December 2, 2021
There was no way that goal shouldn’t have stood. Well done Atkinson and, I presume, VAR. 100% the right decision #MUNARS
— Liam Drury (@liamdrury4) December 2, 2021