How Arsene Wenger could have been the reason of a drawn North London Derby and Arsenal losing out on two crucial points
The applicability of the new and simpler Off-Side law.
Matchweek 28 of the English Premier League saw Mikel Arteta pass a crucial litmus test as Arsenal manager. A 10-man strong Tottenham Hotspur was overwhelmed in the North London Derby by a team that displayed a strong character despite the absence of their regular captain, Pierre Aubameyang . Substitute Eric Lamela’s rabona nutmeg, Martin Ødegaard’s first goal for the Gunners, stand-in skipper Alexandre Lacazette’s crucial penalty and an eventual red card made sure the game stood up to the standards of a typical derby.
However, the story could have been entirely different but for one disputed law: the Video-Assistant Referee (VAR) and its adjudication of the ‘Off-Side’ rule. In contention was Spurs captain Harry Kane’s 83rd minute headed goal that was deemed off-side by the linesman.
This cruel off-side rule for the strikers has been at the mercy of the naked eye of the linesmen ever since its inception. Owing to an increase in wrong decisions in heavyweight matches, FIFA and the International Football Association Board (The IFAB) introduced VAR. This was to bring more justice and transparency to the game, to make it cleaner and fairer. Despite this, the world of football has struggled to get in par with this technology and vice versa.
ESPN’s Dale Johnson has been as verbal as one can get over the feasibility of VAR ever since its introduction. His take on Roberto Firmino’ ‘armpit’ offside in Liverpool FC’s fixture against Aston Villa in 2019 was a game changer. In Firmino’s case, VAR had to draw the line twice on the striker who was eventually found by VAR to be offside by an armpit. Yes, an armpit!
[Complete explanation of the intricacies of the VAR measurement and the role of Centre of Gravity well explained by Dale Johnson through his Twitter thread]
The Firmino incident raised eyebrows not only on the use of VAR but also the applicability of the off-side definition itself. Former Arsenal manager and the current chief of football development for FIFA, Arsene Wenger’s repeated theory of a ‘Daylight Offside law’ would have made the dying minutes of this derby a killer for his former employers. Noticing the arbitrary nature of the rule, Arsene Wenger drafted a series of tweaks and over-hauls to the rule to fit the modern and pacey nature of the game.
As explained by Wenger (via L’Equipe)
“You are offside if a part of your body that you can score with sits ahead of the body of a defender. I would like it to be that there is no offside so long as a [single] body part which a player can score with is in line with the defender. This could be too much of an advantage for an attacker, because that obliges the defenders to play higher up.”
In line of the above mentioned definition, Wenger proposes how the strikers will have more leeway to score goals and still stay in an on-side position by keeping a part of their body, with which they can score a goal, in line of the defender.
For example, if Wenger’s rule was applicable in the following example, Raheem Sterling could have been onside.
This simple yet revolutionary change in the definition could result in more goals and merrier days for strikers and poachers in the final third. Coaches will need to revise their off-side line strategies, the defensive markings as well as the defensive wall. The decision to press for the ball will need to be reassessed and recalculated. Despite the new law having the power the change the game completely, it has been well supported by FIFA president Gianni Infantino and is already in its trial phase in a Chinese league.
[FIFA president Gianni Infantino new changes in VAR]:
Harry Kane’s 83rd minute strike might have brought two crucial points to Spurs. A result that could have gone so well for mangaer Jose Mourinho, thereby affecting the premier league table in the longer run. But looking at the larger picture, the new law could mean more clarity on off-side disputes and a simpler VAR system to the naked eye.