As Ray Parlour intimated in the immediate aftermath of Gabriel Martinelli’s bizarre dismissal against Wolves back in February, this is not exactly new behaviour from Arsenal.
“In my era, we got quite a few sent off as well,” the Romford Pele noted on Talksport, before running through the chequered disciplinary histories of a number of Gunners greats, and concluding, with a little chuckle: “I’m trying to think who wasn’t sent off Arsenal.”
It must be said that he had a point. Patrick Vieira was sent off eight times in nine years; Martin Keown and Tony Adams ten between them. But still, Arsenal under Mikel Arteta are an entirely different animal; and animal is the operative term. In just 129 games, Arsenal have had 16 red cards. That is an average of one every eight games. And that is simply mental.
Clearly, there are issues here. What they are depends on who you ask, of course, but leaving the rabid Twitter-fuelled conspiracies about a shady anti-Gooner cabal running Stockley Park aside for a second, the issue is very much Arsenal’s to own. As underlined by the following ranking of all 16 reds under Arteta – from the harshest to the most hapless – some astoundingly terrible decisions have been made by men in red over the past couple of years.
16. Dani Ceballos v Villareal, 29th April 2021
This one was a genuine rotter from the referee. Sent off for two bookable offences – or, rather, one bookable offence and one something-of-nothing – Ceballos had every right to feel aggrieved. And he did, remonstrating for a veritable age before finally trudging off. Arteta, for his part, declined to criticise the officials in his post-match comments, instead focussing on the fact that he had warned the player to be careful during half-time; a fact more attributable to that which had come before it, than to Ceballos’ actions themselves. Sixteen months into his tenure, this was Arsenal’s tenth red card.
15. David Luiz v Wolves, 2nd February 2021
Unlike his other appearances on this list – although disappearances would probably be more apposite – David Luiz was hard done by here. With Willian José through on goal, and the ever-elegant Luiz a blur of flailing hair and limbs in pursuit, there followed a sniff of the barest of coming togethers, and down José goes.
There were some who suggested that the double-jeopardy rule – that which prevents players from being punished twice for the same offence, with both a penalty and a red card – was null and void in this case, as it only applied to accidental fouls and Luiz clearly knew what he was doing. This is patently nonsense. To suggest otherwise is to imbue the man with a level of bodily control that all available evidence suggests that he does not have. Unlucky in the extreme.
14. Nicolas Pépé v Leeds, 22nd November 2020
And that is pretty much it for the harsh end of the spectrum, with everything from here on in hapless to some degree or other. That said, this particular set of marching orders is slave to subjectivity in a way that many others aren’t. By the letter of the law, it was a red; but at the same time, come on.
In the 51st minute of a fiery 0-0 between the two sides, the running battle between Pépé and Ezgjan Alioski dribbled over into a footballer tête-à-tête, followed by a footballer ‘headbutt’ from the former, and some footballer histrionics from the latter. A wholly unedifying spectacle for all concerned, but arguably Alioski’s reputation came off the worse. Kieran Tierney certainly seemed to think so, confronting him in the tunnel after the game.
13. Gabriel Martinelli v Wolves, 8th February 2022
The most recent of the bunch, and actually similarly subjective to Pépé’s. Unless, of course, you ascribe to a rigorously objective view of these things, in which case two yellow card offences – which both the initial push and the subsequent shoulder charge certainly were – equal a red, whatever the context. Even such sticklers for the rules, however, must admit that it was quite unfortunate on the lad.
With a yellow card meant to be a warning against further infractions, to deliver both at once does seem to bypass that particular, pretty crucial, part of the process. Mind you, given Arsenal’s track record when it comes to heeding said warnings, there is no guarantee the outcome would have been any different.
Interestingly, this was Arsenal’s first victory under Arteta in a game in which they had gone down to ten men (seven losses, six draws). Perhaps – and it would be sensible if so – they have been simulating this in training.
12. Gabriel v Southampton, 16th December 2020
So similar was this red card to his other one in an Arsenal shirt, that either could occupy this position on the spectrum. In both, Gabriel received two yellow cards for two deserving offences, separated by not very long at all.
The reason his second sending off is slightly more egregious – aside from the fact that the bookings were separated by two minutes, as opposed to four – is the game situation. Against Saints, Gabriel’s dismissal didn’t change a whole lot, and the game petered out to a 1-1 draw. His marching orders against City, for a brainless block on Raheem Sterling, came off the back of Arsenal’s best first-half in aeons and with the game finely poised. In the end, City nabbed it having been thoroughly outplayed, and Gabriel had single-handedly (almost, alongside a certain Mr Xhaka) robbed us of a title race once again.
11. Gabriel v Man City, 1st January 2022
10. Eddie Nketiah v Leicester, 7th July 2020
Let’s get this clear from the start: Nketiah’s knee-high lunge on Leicester’s James Justin was not a good challenge, and was thoroughly deserving of a red card. However, given his limited opportunities at the club, a certain eagerness to impress is understandable from the young striker, and goes some way to explaining – if not quite excusing – the recklessness of this challenge, only four minutes after coming on as a substitute.
In the most project restart response you could imagine, however, Mikel Arteta chose not to address any of that in his post-match comments, but instead bemoaned the fact that Chris Kavanagh opted against checking the pitch-side monitor for the decision, very much the cause célèbre of the time.
“In the last year I have never seen a referee check any images,” observed Arteta. Well, Ghost of Mikel Past, we very much have now, and it has made no difference whatsoever.
9. David Luiz v Chelsea, 22nd January 2020
The only thing preventing this from appearing closer to the end is the fact that this calamitous sending off was only partly of Luiz’s making, stemming as it did from an utterly atrocious Shkodran Mustafi back-pass. That said, with only thirty minutes gone, a completely undisguised and blatantly deliberate shove on Tammy Abraham, with the striker clean through on goal, was in no way the correct course of action from the Brazilian. Weirdly, this was only his second Premier League red card. For now.
8. Granit Xhaka v Liverpool, 13th January 2022
Oh, here he is. Xhaka’s first entry of three in this list, and his fifth overall in an Arsenal shirt, was spectacular to say the least. Although a genuine attempt to clear the ball, he absolutely wellied Diogo Jota in the chest whilst simultaneously being the last man back, making this one of the easiest decisions of Michael Oliver’s refereeing career.
As he clearly didn’t see Jota coming, you do have to feel for him a little bit. Not that most of Arsenal Twitter did. A “clueless liability,” said one. “A disgrace,” said many. But the Twitter user who summed it up as follows seemed to best capture the mood of the fanbase: “XHAKA OMG PLEASE JUST LEAVE OUR CLUB!!! How many more times?”
7. Bernd Leno v Wolves, 2nd February 2021
The second entry from this particular loss at Molineux, after David Luiz’s unlucky early dismissal; and it is this particular fact that really hammers home the haplessness here. Already behind and a man down, with little sign of any resurgence in the game, Leno misjudges a through-ball and, to prevent it going by him, flaps out a mitt at it. Despite a game attempt to make it look like it hit his thigh, the look of resignation as the card appeared said it all. With that game situation, he would have to conclude that this was a completely unnecessary three game ban.
6. Thomas Partey v Liverpool, 21st January 2022
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Just eight days after Xhaka’s kamikaze red from the first leg, Partey here went one worse, getting sent off within 15 minutes of coming on as a substitute, for two bookings, spread four minutes apart.
What sets this on another level to others within this genre is the meatiness of the challenge on Fabinho for the second yellow; having just come on and just been booked, it truly was a madcap challenge to be making. What exonerates him somewhat is the fact that he had just come back from a humiliating group stage exit with Ghana at Afcon, and was clearly pretty narked. Still, hapless it certainly was.
5. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang v Crystal Palace, 11th January 2020
In all honesty, this one is more brutal than anything else. With his studs up, above the ankle, Aubameyang’s tackle here gets worse with every viewing; just as well really, as whilst it was a definite red card, it still required VAR to reach that conclusion. The tackle’s recipient, Max Meyer, didn’t need replays to know how bad it was, however, going off injured by the force of it.
Beyond all that, it was just completely unnecessary, with Meyer out on the left touchline and going nowhere, and Aubameyang’s dismissal scuppering Arsenal’s chances in a game that they were favourites to win. Presumably, then, the mouth-frothing ire reserved for the likes of Xhakas spumed virulently over social media in the wake of this onw? Not quite. “WHAT?” wrote renowned neutralist Piers Morgan. “Another pathetic VAR fiasco. That was a poor challenge but no malice intended & a booking at worst.” Okay then.
4. Granit Xhaka v Burnley, 13th December 2020
The sheer extent of the haplessness on show here is probably best illustrated by the fact that it is one of the few to have garnered definitive, public criticism from his manager. “He has made a mistake that’s clearly going to cost us,” Arteta said to the media after the game. “He has overstepped the line.”
And hadn’t he just. Having hacked down Dwight McNeil near the centre circle, Xhaka responded to the Burnley players’ remonstrations by first falling over, and then grabbing Ashley Westwood around the oesophagus. Whilst it was missed by the on-field officials, VAR tidied things up, and Arsenal went on to record a 1-0 home defeat, courtesy of an Aubameyang own goal.
3. David Luiz v Manchester City, 17th June 2020
And the trifecta of David Luiz last man calamities is complete, with certainly his most ludicrous. Appearing after twenty minutes as a replacement for Pablo Mari, in the first game of project restart, five months – but only five games – after Luiz was sent off for hauling down Tammy Abraham, Luiz first spooned one off his thigh to give Raheem Sterling an easy opener, and then hauled down Riyad Mahrez four minutes into the second half. The penalty was tucked away, City won 3-0, and the world was given twenty-seven minutes of perhaps the definitive David Luiz disasterclass.
2. Rob Holding v Tottenham,, 12th May 2022
In what was being colloquially dubbed the biggest North London derby of recent memory amid the backdrop of Champions League football on the line, with Martin Keown even going as far as to call this a “winner-takes-all” contest, Arteta really didn’t need the prevailing reputation of his side to take hold here.
And yet, that’s exactly what happened. In what threatened to spill over and prove a sanguinary spectacle on the turf, Rob Holding contrived to throw in the towel from the off for Arteta, lunging into reckless challenges on Son Heung-min in a not-so-subtle attempt to rile up his opposite number.
Three extremely late, careless and downright idiot attempts to roughhouse Son in the first half saw Paul Tierney given little choice but to hand Holding an early bath. This genuinely goes down in the ‘what was he thinking?’ category of performances, and if Spurs go on to clinch the top four, it’s a red that will enter infamy forever.
1. Granit Xhaka v Manchester City, 28th August 2021
It had to be, really. In a career littered with ridiculous red cards, this effort from Xhaka really does take some beating. 2-0 down at the Etihad with an hour still to play, Xhaka launched himself two-footed at Joao Cancelo for reasons nobody has been able to fathom. Whilst the contact was minimal, the sheer lunacy of the tackle left the referee with absolutely no choice.
Given that the game finished 5-0 to City, with Arsenal mustering one shot (off target) and 19% possession, and legitimately only being saved from conceding double figures by some very wasteful finishing, it is fairly safe to assume his teammates were not best pleased with him afterwards. Not that Xhaka would have shown any contrition, mind you, as he came out and said that he was “brutally surprised” with the decision. The referee’s, just to clarify; not his own rank stupidity.