Arsenal have raised concerns with the Premier League’s refereeing body regarding the treatment of winger Bukayo Saka.
Recent statistics revealed Saka as the third-most fouled player in the top flight throughout 2023, trailing only Crystal Palace’s Jordan Ayew and Newcastle’s Bruno Guimaraes in the frequency of challenges against him.
The Gunners’ dissatisfaction stems from what they perceive as a pattern of rough treatment towards Saka during matches. They argue that referees have been slow to intervene, allowing tough challenges on Saka to go unpunished until subsequent offenses occur.
In a discussion with officials, Arsenal advocated for a change in approach, proposing that the initial serious foul against Saka should result in a caution rather than waiting for a second offense as reported by the Daily Mail.
This comes amidst concerns over Saka’s well-being, as the young talent has been carrying an Achilles issue since the previous season and suffered an injury against Lens in October, sidelining him for a couple of weeks.
Mikel Arteta previously advised Saka on coping with physical challenges, emphasising the need to anticipate plays and use his body effectively. However, he acknowledged the unpredictability of opponents’ actions, highlighting the plight faced by wingers and skilled players who often bear the brunt of tough tackles while being tasked with driving the team’s success.
Arteta’s clashes with officials have been a recurring theme over the past year and a half, notably resulting in charges earlier this season after expressing discontent following a contentious goal awarded against Newcastle. Although later cleared by an independent panel, Arteta’s frustrations reflect broader concerns within Arsenal regarding officiating standards in the Premier League.
Arteta said, “He needs to learn when to take certain balls, what to do with that ball, how to use his body, when to jump.
“There are a lot of things we can train but obviously it is very difficult to understand what the opponent is going to do. Wingers and talented players get kicked and fouled and get the demand to win games and that is the chance he has, that is his role in the team.”
As a club, Arsenal have called for urgent improvements in refereeing standards, urging the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) to focus on proactive measures rather than retrospective analyses and apologies. They expressed support for Chief Refereeing Officer Howard Webb’s efforts and indicated a willingness to collaborate for achieving higher officiating standards aligned with the league’s global status.