The ref was terrible, but so was Arsenal's summer

Posted by Andrew Mangan

Arsenal might have good grounds to feel aggrieved at referee Anthony Taylor after their 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day of the Premier League season.

The award of Villa's second penalty was contentious, as it looked as if Laurent Koscielny got the ball as Gabi Agbonlahor closed in on goal, but that was nothing compared to the decision to send off the Frenchman for a second bookable offence just minutes later.

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There appeared to be very little in a coming together between Koscielny and a Villa player; Taylor played on, then when play stopped he came back to send him off. It's as bad a decision as you will see all season, and it robbed Arsenal of any real chance of getting back into the game.

Throughout the game Taylor seemed keen to let Villa work an advantage, but numerous times stopped play when Arsenal could have been awarded the same refereeing courtesy. It was the kind of display that had home fans cheering sarcastically any time he did actually give Arsenal something, although it will be overlooked that he could easily have sent off Wojciech Szczesny in the first half when he brought down Agbonlahor for the first Villa penalty.

But as bad as he was -- and he really was -- the Gunners reaped what they sowed after a summer of transfer inaction. Some will argue that you can't legislate for a referee having a stinker like that, and that's true, but what you can control is the quality of your squad, and a better Arsenal team would have won that game today.

They had all summer to improve their squad. Instead, they procrastinated, dithered, delayed, hummed and hawed to the point where nothing had been done before today's kickoff. Aside from the lack of new players coming in, they now lose one of just two fit centre-halves for next week's trip to Fulham -- Kieran Gibbs was taken off with what looked like a serious head wound, while a horrible looking landing saw Bacary Sagna go off with just minutes left.

Murphy's Law was in action in North London today, but Arsenal really only have themselves to blame. They had the time and the resources to significantly improve their squad this summer and chose not to. There is no referee to blame for not allowing them to make transfers, just a dysfunctional system that has seen the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Luiz Gustavo go elsewhere. How different a proposition would they have been today with those two players in the side?

After Villa's third goal went in, the fans in the stadium, who had been fully behind the players to that point, directed their considerable ire at the manager and the board, with chants of "Spend some f---ing money."

Yet you wonder if this will make any difference. If the will wasn't there to do it in a timely fashion, when it would really have helped, why now? An injury crisis? Fan pressure? This is reactive rather than proactive from Arsenal; it can't legitimately be seen as some kind of plan or the right way to run a football club.

A midweek Champions League qualifier awaits. The outcome is anybody's guess, but given the state of the squad, it's hard to feel confident.


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