Mikel Arteta, as we know, is known for his touchline theatrics, whether it’s clapping or shouting to his own players or demanding that referees apply the rules. Ironically (or hypocritically, depending on your point of view), he was booked after just fifteen minutes for insisting that Rodri be booked after dragging Havertz to the ground and breaking up what looked like a decent counter-attack. Havertz might have laid the ball off to the onrushing Rice, who had acres of space in front of him. Alas and alack.
Ødegaard and Saka had just won the ball went upfield. Saka passed to Havertz inside the centre-circle. Rodri pulled Havertz to the ground just a few feet from Attwell, who did see fit to call the foul but didn’t say anything to Rodri. Arteta took several brisk, running steps inside the technical area and gestured for a yellow card. To be fair, it appeared that he stepped out of the area but wasn’t aggressive. Nonetheless, Attwell took issue with Arteta’s reaction and booked him. Arteta stood there, hands in his pockets, and chuckled.
Speaking after the match, Gary Neville said that he was told that “Arteta was a big reason that [thew new rule] was brought in for his last season’s behaviour”. It seems a bit of a half-baked conspiracy, but the puzzle pieces fit without the need for a hammer to tap the innies into the outies. Just fifteen minutes into a preseason kickabout, Arteta’s been booked under the new rules against leaving the technical area or showing aggressive behaviour to the referees. Of course, this is Gary Neville we’re talking about, so it’s beset to keep grains of salt at the ready. He’s been known to be both sceptical and, well, salty regarding Arteta’s success. After all, it’s not everyone who can show some semblance of success in their first managerial role, is it Gary?
There was not much in what Arteta said or did that seemed excessive, unless you already have an anti-Arteta agenda. Attwell had other choices at his disposal. He could have walked over to Arteta, firmly reminded him of the new rules, and left it at that. If we’re to take Neville at his word (always a risky proposition, but bear with me…), Prem officials may have singled Arteta out as a bête noire of sorts, and not just for his attire. How much of that quick yellow card reflects Arteta’s reputation from previous seasons and how much of that reflects what Arteta did during the Community Shield? To be booked for his reputation would carry a certain ex post facto feeling.
Attwell did seem eager to book our players. He whistled them for six fouls and issued three yellow cards. Partey, Gabriel, and Havertz were each booked for the only fouls they committed. Meanwhile, he whistled City players for 11 fouls and issued zero yellow cards. Rodri was whistled for just three fouls but got away with perhaps a half-dozen others and was never so much as verbally admonished, much less booked, and if we want to talk about sanctioning people for past behaviour & reputation, well, we may be currently discussing public enemy number one.
In the end, though, justice of a sort prevailed when Ramsdale saved Rodri’s penalty to help us win the Community Shield. I’m just surprised that Attwell didn’t seize the moment to book Ramsdale or send Arteta off for excessive celebration.
It’s easy to feel like there’s a conspiracy when Arteta’s the only manager to have been booked so far. Then again, there’s just been the one match. Time will tell whether we’ll see Guardiola, Klopp, De Zerbi or other managers booked for their own histrionics. If past behaviour is any precedent, we’ll see Prem referees apply the new rules with the same even-handed consistency and objectivity with which they’ve always applied the old ones.
Somehow, I’m not reassured.