Referee Watch: Manchester United vs. Arsenal


By Matthew Campbell

After two dismal refereeing performances from Martin Atkinson and Phil Dowd in the last two Manchester United games it was Chris Foy’s turn to take centre stage in United’s comfortable 2-0 victory over Arsenal in the FA Cup quarter final.

But after both managers criticised the standard of refereeing in recent games, neither Sir Alex Ferguson nor Arsene Wenger could complain about Foy’s performance in this match as the official from St Helens produced an outstanding refereeing display, arguably, the best refereeing performance of the season.

Foy had taken charge of Man United on five previous occasions this season which was more than any other official in the Premier League. He is a referee of vast experience and has performed at some of the top games in English football over recent years including a Manchester derby this season, last year’s FA Cup final between Chelsea and Portsmouth and more importantly a league meeting between United and Arsenal last season.

On that day United were comfortable 3-1 winners at The Emirates in a match that saw Foy produce only one yellow card and this match was a carbon copy of that one with Foy again only showing one yellow card. That was to Paul Scholes, who has never been blessed with good tackling ability, for a nasty looking two footed tackle on Marouane Chamakh.  Although the veteran midfielder got a touch on the ball, it was a dangerous looking challenge so quite rightly deserved the yellow card which came in the fourth of eight minutes of stoppage time.

United were cruising at this point as Arsenal were forced to play the last ten minutes or so with ten men after Johan Djourou was stretchered off after a collision with team mate Bacary Sagna. So with two minutes of stoppage time remaining it was completely unnecessary for Scholes to go in late on Samir Nasri a tackle that on another day in another game could have seen him dismissed.

The challenge was reckless and not in keeping with the game which until that point didn’t have a nasty tackle in it so Foy used his common sense and gave the 36 year old a final warning rather than a second yellow card which was sensible considering the friendly nature of the game up until that point.

It wasn’t just this incident that he refereed well, in fact he refereed the whole 90 minutes extremely well with little fuss as he blended into the background in what was a one sided affair at times. After well taken goals from Fabio Da Silva and Wayne Rooney either side of half time ensured a semi final place at Wembley for Sir Alex’s side.

Foy, who refereed last year’s FA Cup final between Chelsea and Portsmouth, is without a doubt the best player of the advantage rule out of all the Premier League referees and he proved this by playing two excellent advantages for the Gunners in the first half, one after a foul by Patrice Evra on Samir Nasri which led to an Arsenal shot being blocked.

Another good quality of Foy’s is that despite being 48, he is incredibly fit and can get around the pitch as well as the younger guys like Stuart Attwell and Michael Oliver, both of whom are in their twenties.

He has been one of the best performing officials this season and I think he will add to his domestic finals by taking charge of the Championship Play-off final in May, having already officiated the FA Cup final.

Having watched the majority of Manchester United games this season I have to say that this refereeing performance was the best i’ve seen in any match involving the Old Trafford outfit.

My Rating: 9/10

Wasn’t the perfect performance but was as near as it could have been with some good decisions made.  His foul detection was exemplary and his use of advantage was brilliant as always. Managed to keep the game flowing and contributed to an exciting cup tie.

Looking Ahead

Marseille are the next visitors to Old Trafford for a Champions League Last 16 second leg tie on Tuesday night with the referee for that game still to be confirmed.   My prediction is that Portugal’s Pedro Proenca will take charge of this game; however the appointment will not be announced until Monday.

But no matter who the man in charge is, United will no doubt be worried as the English teams haven’t been lucky with refereeing in Europe so far this season.  Harry Redknapp felt aggrieved after French official Stephane Lannoy failed to dismiss Mathieu Flamini and Genaro Gattuso in Tottenham’s 1-0 win against AC Milan and Arsene Wenger was left fuming after Swiss official Massimo Busacca showed Robin Van Persie a second yellow card for kicking the ball away in Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat to Barcelona at the Nou Camp, a decision that no doubt cost Arsenal a place in the quarter finals.

However with the score from the first leg being 0-0, United will feel that no matter who the ref is and no matter where he is from they will get the job done and book their place in the last eight of the competition.

Register with Stretford End Arising forum.

Subscribe via Email

Subscribe to our free email newsletter and never miss a post!

I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.


  1. Avatar

    Er, you seem to have overlooked the assault by Rooney on Sagna that went unpunished. And then you go on to acknowledge the blindingly obvious second yellow (if not straight red) Scholes should have had yet give the ref 9/10. Oh, sorry…..good refereeing at OT is all about getting an unfair advantage. Ironic too that both your goalscorers should have been serving a ban for red card offences in previous games.

  2. Avatar

    Bit disappointing that you let team bias spoil your report on the referee. Officials lack consistency which is why they should do things by the letter of the law, and that means a red card to Scholes and a yellow for Rooney excessive force.

  3. Avatar
    Matthew Campbell on

    Hi guys i’m glad you read the article and although maybe you didn’t like it i appreciate the responce.

    I genuinly did not set out for this article to be biased in anyway either for or against Manchester United. I don’t support them so I am not actively looking to be biased towards them.

    This article is simply my honest opinion of what took place

  4. Avatar

    Hang on… if a nasty challenge comes in the middle of a “friendly natured game” then it should go unpunished then ???? What difference does it make how the game has been played up to the point of the challenge? Try telling that to the guy on the receiving end of it
    A nasty challenge is a nasty challenge and shouldnt go unpunished
    **Blinkered ManUre tripe**

  5. Avatar

    I thought Foy was spot on. Notably, Wenger (who has been known to feel “aggrieved” by one or two referees in his time, had nothing negative to say, so I think you can dismiss the two complaints above as being biased in their own right. After a two week period in which both teams were on the short-end of refereeing decisions, Foy was a breath of fresh air, and had an excellent game.

    • Avatar

      Both teams were on the end of bad refereeing decisions agreed. But Man U have been on the end of several very generous ones too. See my previous point that both goal scorers should have been serving a ban yesterday. Man U occasionally get a bad decision against them but they get many, many more in their favour.

  6. Avatar

    Hi Matthew, great piece, written with intelligence and objectivity. Whilst I don’t think Foy was the best at OT this season (Atkinson v Wigan and Marriner v City were IMO) he certainly had a good game as you point out. I wont point out specific incidents for fear of being labelled bias – as I write for this blog as a known red!

    I would like to comment on your views on Atkinson down at the Bridge (hopefully allaying fears of said bias in the process haha!), and the RVP incident at Camp Nou.

    I cant agree that Atkinson had a mare, and would also like to review the ‘LuizGate’:

    Firstly, having viewed this several times over, it is still not 100% certain whether Atkinson sees this event – I know that MOTD froze the frame which seemed to indicate that he did, but what they didnt show was that the referee was concomitantly trying to see what was materialising in the general run of play (the ball) down the left hand side with Giggs; Essentially, he was performing some kind of owl-like movement of his head (a technique refs use often when trying to view 2 incidents some distance apart) – after all his duty is to keep an eye on play at all times, and it is one requirement of assistants to see ‘off the ball’ incidents. Did he see it? Inconclusive.

    Secondly however, many are making the same presumption that this is a second yellow 100% of the time. It is NOT. It would have to be classed as cynical and unsporting in the view of the referee, and as we saw at Stoke earlier this season, Marriner decided against showing G Neville a second yellow just after half time for a late challenge on Etherington. United fans – of which I am one – seemingly want it both ways. The fact of the matter remains that whilst the referee would be in his rights to send Luiz from the field, he concluded (we believe) that it wasnt worthy, perhaps only 40/60 in his mind – hence doubt, hence no second card.

    Whilst there were some debatable decisions – there always is – he got the main ones correct – the penalty and the Vidic red card. United fans also forget about the 3 late Scholes challenges that also could have elicited a second yellow. He was letting this passionate game flow and to some extent it worked.

    – As a side note, he has been exemplary in the United fixtures in last 12 months, in which he has officiated 6, 5 of which United have won – including the City defeats both home and away, one of course now infamous for the 7 mins of stoppage that he played.

    In relation to the RVP incident we should remind the blog that we are talking about one of the finest officials in the last 7-8 years or so, despite what Phil Thompson says about Busacca.

    On to the incident itself, one thing that has been largely overlooked amidst the sniping and self-righteousness is the fact that this may not have been a second caution for ‘delaying the re-start’ – but if it was, what right does RVP have to kick the ball towards the goal a full 2seconds after the whistle is blown? (the whistle was loud, more fool anyone who actually believed RVP’s pleas that the crowd drowned it out).

    According to law it is a clear attempt to delay the restart when Arsenal were ahead in the tie despite the occasion. Personally, I would not show a yellow for this offence and simply give him a final warning – but the point remains that Busacca was in his right to send him off, despite the occasion. My feeling however was that he was given the second yellow card due to ‘unsporting behaviour’ and the questioning of the linesman’s decision. The call was tight and the flag ever so slightly late, RVP had thought he was played onside and knew that this chance would be one of very few in the game, and ultimately the opportunity to seal Arsenal’s progression; he kicked out in anger (hence poor finish at near post) and frustration at the liner’s decision which again is fully worthy of a yellow card. Busacca made a mistake to many in the eyes of the media (and Wenger) by applying the law without emotion. He didn’t of course earlier in the game where RVP should have seen red for raising his hand to an opponent’s face; and despite missing a clear penalty on Messi in the first half, he had an excellent game – which was of course backed by UEFA.

    Referees continue to get 98% of decisions right (according to many studies) and it is this fact that many pundits, fans and managers need to bare in mind when decrying a performance ‘bias’ or ‘inept’. Referees make mistakes, just as footballers and managers do …

    • Avatar

      “One of the finest referees”!!! Busacca was an interesting choice of referee for the Barca v Arsenal game. Not so long ago he received a three match ban from his own FA for losing control of a Swiss Cup game………yes a Swiss cup game! But he apologised saying he was intimidated by the fans……..AT A SWISS CUP GAME!!! Just the sort of ref that is going to remain in control in front of 90,000 Barca fans then………….

      In terms of being within his rights to send Van Persie off, you may be right. He was therefore within his rights to send off two Barca players before that for getting hold of Van Persioe and Nasri by thraot……conveniently forgotten eh!!!

  7. Avatar
    Matthew Campbell on

    Nik I have to say I agree with every point you make and I agree I don’t think Atkinson had a bad game against Chelsea I simply meant that United felt that he did so, I however felt he got the majority of decisions correct especially the pen and vidic red card.

    I agree with you also that Marriner was outstanding in the derby and his performance was as good as Foy’s.

    Because I am not a United fan, simply a football fan, I obviously haven’t seen all 90 minutes of all Man Utd games so my opinions are based on what i have seen.

    I do run the line quite a bit on University and local park matches so I know that officials make mistakes as I have made a few myself and my aim in this article is not to slate a referees performance it is simply to portray my opinions as a neutral fan.

    I don’t think my opinions are biased as mentioned by some earlier, but if people really do believe this then I apologise and will make doubley sure that my next article is not biased.

  8. Avatar


    Firstly I am not bias against Arsenal I can assure you. I write a tactics column and praised you to the heavens after the first leg against Barca.

    Secondly, dont be so ignorant in your assessment of Busacca. He is an internationally renowned referee who has had a glittering career including:

    WC2006 up to semi-finals
    UEFA Cup Final 2007
    Euro 2008 up to semi-finals
    Champions League Final 2009 in Rome
    WC2010 Group stages (unfairly demoted after correctly sending of host keeper for SA)

    RVP knew exactly what he was doing, it was unsportsmanlike and also a show of dissent to officals = yellow card on 70% of occasions.


    • Avatar

      Nik, I accept your right to an opinion. It’s a shame you seem obsessed with Van Persie’s sending off. It would have been nice if you’d have cared to9 comment in the throat grabbing incidents I mention. And I would respectfully suggest you merely give an opinion and accept it as that. “RVP knew exactly what he was doing.” Not only do you write a ‘tactics column’ you are obviously a self-declared psychic now as well lol

  9. Avatar

    BTW The ref for Tuesday is Carlos Velasco Carballo of Spain.

    And as for your comment that van Persie’s sending-off “no doubt” cost his team a place in the CL Quarters…


    Which game – and subsequent stats – did you actually see?

    If they had brought a player ON, it would have made no difference to the outcome.

    Jesus wept.

    • Avatar

      So if Sheringham had been sent off with 87 minutes gone of the Champions League final against Munich it would have made no difference then? One of the few facts that can be said about the RVP incident was that before the sending off and after two and a half hours of 11 v 11 Arsenal were winning. As you will see from yesterdays game the team that has the least possession, the least passes, the least shots etc., does sometimes win. Or had you conveniently forgotten that…………..

  10. Avatar
    Matthew Campbell on

    I agree with you I should have worded that better, what I meant was that the decision had extinguished any hopes Arsenal had of qualifying for the quarter finals. The sentence should have been “no doubt cost Arsenal any hope they had of qualifying for the quarter finals.” Although I do believe it would have been harder for Barcelona against 11 men.

Leave A Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.