Sean Dyche on a run of refereeing controversies against Arsenal, ahead of Burnley’s visit to the Emirates

One of a number of controversial decisions in Arsenal’s favour against Burnley may have inadvertently led to the handball rule as we now know it.

By Chris Boden
Saturday, 12th December 2020, 10:30 pm
Laurent Koscielny scores with his hand at Turf Moor in 2016
Laurent Koscielny scores with his hand at Turf Moor in 2016

Back in October 2016, with the game goalless at Turf Moor, from an apparent offside, the ball goes in clearly off Gunners centre back Laurent Koscielny’s hands.

At the time, handball had to be deemed deliberate, and despite his arms appearing in a somewhat unnatural position, the goal was given.

The incident was discussed at a meeting of Premier League chairmen, who told the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd (PGMOL) they didn’t want goals scored with the hand, accidentally or not, to be given.

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The International FA Board (IFAB) looked at the situation, ahead of their annual meeting in March 2019, and the new rules came into being, which was slightly tweaked this summer, to read: “To penalise a player for handball the match officials must have clear evidence that the ball has struck the player's arm below the bottom of the armpit and in the red zone indicated below.

“Incidents where the ball hits the shoulder should not be penalised.

“IFAB have also issued a reminder that a player cannot score a goal with their arm, even if it is accidental.

”An accidental handball by an attacking player or team-mate will only be penalised if it occurs immediately before a goal or a goalscoring opportunity.

”If an attacking player accidentally touches the ball with their hand or arm and then scores a goal, or the ball goes to another attacking player and they immediately score, this is a handball offence.

”But it is not a handball offence if after an accidental handball the ball travels some distance via a pass or a dribble, or there are several passes before the goal or goalscoring opportunity.”

The Koscielny incident wasn’t the only issue in games between Arsenal and Burnley, with Alexis Sanchez scoring an injury time winner from the spot in January 2017 when Ben Mee was adjudged to have fouled an offside Koscielny.

In November that year, the Clarets wee again punished at the death when Aaron Ramsey theatrically went to ground after a hand in the back from James Tarkowski led to another Sanchez winner.

Sean Dyche was asked, ahead of tomorrow’s meeting at the Emirates, whether VAR would rule out those sort of controversies now, and whether Arsenal’s current status - sitting 15th in the table rather than pushing for a Champions League berth - might also count in the opposition’s favour.

Dyche said: “In theory, VAR would have been helpful.

”There was the one with the last minute corner that shouldn’t have been taken, then it was short, then it was offside and then it was handballed in.

”I do believe that was put in the process of changing the handball rule.

”There was an offside, then it went past everyone and someone handballed it in.

”That went some way to the rule of if it was a handball goal, it was disallowed by design rather than by default.

”But I don’t think there is any given that because they’re not as high up the table as most people thought they would be, you won’t get a decision.

”It would be nice if we do get a couple as I don’t think we’ve had our fair share this season on the balance of parity of decisions.

”But if it comes down to a decision, we just hope it goes our way.”

The Clarets boss is still searching for his first win over the Gunners, losing 10 on the spin before February’s 0-0 draw at Turf Moor, and he thinks his side have been a touch unfortunate: “We have been close rather than awful in a few of them.

“I think we’ve played really well and we’ve taken them down to the wire, although a few of them have got away from us, which can happen.

”You can’t guarantee that won’t happen against the superpowers if they really click into gear, any of the top six, top eight if they find their feet on any given day.

”So we have to safeguard that with our own performance, not hope they have a quiet day, but make them have one with our own performance.”

It will be Burnley’s first game in front of any fans, albeit only 2,000 home supporters, since March, and Dyche feels it is a step in the right direction: “It’s generally good for football to have these signs and shoots of life coming out of the terraces.

”We hope it builds quickly on the recovery of the country.

”But I don’t know how it will affect the game.

”The percentage of fans compared to the size of the stadium is not going to be vast, but I hope it adds a feel to it.

”It just remains to be same how much as it’s quite a low number considering.

“Whether it does or it doesn’t (give Arsenal a boost) we have to react.

”We have to be proactive and expect a performance from them.

”We have to look at our performance, and look at the facts.

”There are going to be fans there, so I’m not over thinking what effect that will have because they want to give a performance, as do we.”