08 May 2013

So, about Mike Dean and this Wigan match

Looks like Wigan will go into Tuesday's clash with a man-advantage. That man? Mike Dean. His name alone brings the bile to back of most Gunners' throats, and more than a few would like to throttle his. He's been present at some of our worst debacles, such as the FA Cup loss to Blackburn and the Capital One Cup loss to Bradford, not to mention the 2-11 Carling Cup loss to Birmingham. In short, any cup-tie against a lower-tier team whose name starts with "B" is a guaranteed loss for us, and it's all down to Mike Dean.

Ok, I'm exaggerating. But not by much. An impressive series on referees and their impact on games is available at Untold Arsenal. You really should click over and check it out for yourself. For now, I'm going to focus on his potential impact on our run-in with Wigan. A quick run-down of our last 38 games with him as overseer shows us come away with 15 wins, 12 draws, and 11 losses for 57 points from 114 (I've included Bradford and Blackburn to keep the math simpler). This would drop us down to 7th place on the current table. Quite a swoon. Taking a closer look at our last ten, however, seems to mitigate his impact as he's supervised matches against some of our toughest opponents, games in which we would expect to struggle or drop points regardless of the ref. The yellow-card/red-card count even seems to favor us.. This might put the conspiracy theories to rest until we remind ourselves that man has been a referee for more than 25 years and is certainly cagey enough to cloak his insidious intentions. A more-blatant pattern of red-cards, for example, would put us darkly through the looking-glass.

However, there seems to have been enough to it to sink us under the weight Dean's "subtle" bias. With thanks again to Untold Arsenal, we've won 53% of our last 800 games but only 38% of them under Dean. Part of this could be down to him featuring in matches against other top-table teams more often than against mid-table or cellar-dwellers, but that's still a stunning drop. It could even factor into why we've dropped so many points against Man U, Man City, and Chelsea this year. We've lost 19.95% of our last 800 games, but 29.55% of them under Dean. I'm usually one to just suck it up and play, but these numbers are pretty stark. No other team has seen its loss-percentage increase to that extent unless they've only faced Dean a handful of times (less than ten; we've faced him 44 times).

If it was only his impact on us that we'd have to worry about, that's one thing. However, the story doesn't end there. His impact on Wigan is just as worrying. In the 291 games that Untold Arsenal studied, they won 27.84% of their games, but 50% when Dean's involved. Between our slumping and Wigan's surging, I'm starting to think there is something to the conspiracy-theory.

This is not to say that all of the points we've dropped when Dean's around is his faultnot in the least. For example, he didn't squib a clearance in the opening minutes against Man U. He didn't tackle Dzeko in the box at the Etihad. He didn't miss sitters against Blackburn in the FA Cup. However, it's possible that our players have bought into this conspiracy as well, breathing life into what might otherwise have withered on the vine. What doesn't show up on any chart is the attitude that our players bring into the game when they know that Dean will be involved. Are they distracted, tentative, agitated? Even before the whistle blows, do they assume that they'll get carded more quickly than usual, or that being fouled will be overlooked? I hope not. We've often been accused of being soft and whiny, especially when playing "tougher" clubs like Everton (if Moyes has anything to say in the matter). There might be something to that.

Fortunately, we've shown more grit and tenacity in recent weeks, more than enough (I hope) to overcome any real or imagined bias on the referee's part. If we come out on Tuesday with the intensity and drive that we've shown recently, it won't matter who's holding the whistle. Whether we get to play actual football or have to roll up our sleeves and put our shoulders to the wheel on Tuesday, we know we need these three points and we're going to take them, Dean or no Dean. That's as it should be.