VAR drama: Arsenal and Manchester United see handball decisions confuse coaches, pundits and fans

Consistently inconsistent

The video assistant referee (VAR) system was implemented to resolve some of the key issues within the game, and ultimately take the pressure off of officials.

However, even the most casual football fan will know that VAR has proven anything but positive. Whilst the system is providing further information for officials, it ultimately comes down to an individual making the final decision. The interpretation of footage will therefore inevitably see errors forthcoming.

Not only does VAR give rise to controversy, but so do the rules themselves. Whilst opinions regarding what constitutes handball in the game are broad, there are specific rules involved in the decision-making process.

Yet, pundits and fans continue to debate furiously over inconsistencies on the pitch.

Hand-ball controversy dominated the last World Cup final, after France were awarded a penalty when Ivan Perisic was adjudged to have deliberately handled in the box.

The term ‘deliberate’ led to a change in the ruling for this season.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA – JULY 15: Ivan Perisic of Croatia handles the ball inside the penalty area, leading to a VAR review, and then a France penalty during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final between France and Croatia at Luzhniki Stadium on July 15, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

Manchester to London

Manchester United were comfortably beaten by Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Saturday. However, the game was overshadowed partly by a penalty call against the north west club. Victor Lindelof was adjudged to have handled the ball after Jordan Ayew scooped a shot up and onto the Swede’s arm.

In the Sky Sports commentary booth, Gary Neville confidently denied the decision’s legitimacy:

‘”Ayew scoops it up against Lindelof’s arm – I’ll be absolutely amazed, I’d be devastated if I had a penalty given against me for that.”

“His arm’s moved with his running action. I thought that Leeds one last week at Anfield was nonsense and I think this one is equally so,” the former United right-back exclaimed.

Later in the evening, Arsenal hosted West Ham. The Gunners were fortunate to come away with a victory after a spirited display from the Hammers.

Again, the clash saw VAR controversy take centre stage. Arsenal summer addition Gabriel Magalhaes leaped to meet Tomas Soucek’s header in the box, and the ball appeared to strike the Brazilian’s upper arm.

West Ham manager David Moyes was adamant that his side were unlucky not to have been awarded a penalty for the action.

“I think it was a penalty.”

“If it wasn’t they need to explain the rules to us again. We’re all unsure. He [Gabriel] should have headed it, because he missed it, it hit his arm. He should have been punished for that.”

So what are the rules?

According to the International Football Association Board’s (IFAB) rules, a handball offence is characterised by the ball touching anywhere from the tip of a player’s fingers to their upper arm, directly in line with the bottom of the armpit.

Comparing yesterday’s two incidents, answers can therefore be found. In the Manchester United game, the ball was moved by Ayew onto the forearm of Lindelof. By the letter of the law, as the arm was away from the body, and the ball struck the forearm, a penalty was correctly awarded.

The big screen displays the decision after a VAR (Video Assistant Referee) review, disallowing a goal from Chelsea’s French defender Kurt Zouma for a foul in the build-up during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge in London on February 17, 2020. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

In the case of Gabriel, the Brazilian defender leapt and made contact with the ball above the threshold of the “armpit”, as described in the IFAB ruling.

Therefore, in each case, the correct decision was made. Whether or not this rule is how handball-based decisions should be decided opens up an entirely different debate. What is certain, though, is that the Premier League season is set to provide fans with plenty of further cause for discussion regarding the subject of VAR.

See also: Dean Henderson pens new Man United deal/Brandon Williams ruled out of latest England U21 squad

Arsenal’s Aouar need: What the Frenchman brings and why Arteta is so keen


This article was edited by Conor Laird.

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