Arsenal legends Martin Keown and Perry Groves have told talkSPORT they loved watching Chelsea’s ‘refreshing’ FA Cup victory at Barnsley – because there was no VAR.
The Blues sealed their place in the quarter-finals with a slim 1-0 win over the Championship side, and with the match hosted at the Oakwell Stadium it meant there was no room for Video Assistant Referees.
Fans noted that they revelled in being able to celebrate Tammy Abraham’s winning goal immediately, rather than waiting for confirmation from the officials, which many complain has sapped the excitement and thrill from the game.
The game was not without controversy, with Chelsea not given what appeared to be a stonewall penalty after watching the replays, following a challenge from Barnsley centre-back Toby Sibbick on Abraham in the box.
It mattered little in the end though as Abraham eventually scored the goal Thomas Tuchel’s men deserved to go through, although even that was contentious with claims it would have been ruled out for offside.
Keown helped bring talkSPORT live coverage of the match, with the former Arsenal defender on co-commentary and analyst duty in South Yorkshire.
And he admitted it was a great experience without the interference of Stockley Park, who have been widely criticised since the new technology’s introduction.
“It was refreshing that it was just down to the officials and down to us in the commentary box to decide whether we thought it was onside or offside, whether it was handball or a penalty,” the Gunners legend told talkSPORT host Jim White.
“Actually, there was a penalty in the game when the Barnsley centre-back Toby Sibbick went in on Tammy Abraham, and when you watched it live for all the world in the commentary box it looked like a fantastic tackle.
“But lo and behold, you see the replay and he makes contact with the player before he gets to the ball.
“It was one of those where you thought, ‘OK, we’ll accept that’, which we wouldn’t have done ten years ago, we’d have been up in arms towards the official.
“But it was just so refreshing to do a game where VAR isn’t crawling all over it.”
Sports Bar host Andy Goldstein was under a different impression, saying that the penalty miss was a mistake from the match officials that only reinforced why VAR was brought in at the top level.
But co-host Groves said, even though some decisions were missed that would have been picked up had VAR been in operation, he loved the feeling of watching football again without the technology, and even claimed the referee probably proffered it, too.
“I think it underlines just how important VAR is,” said Goldstein on Thursday night.
“I know a lot of people hate it, but in the first half we had the Tammy Abraham incident. It looked like a penalty and when you see it from behind the goal it was without doubt a penalty, but it wasn’t given.”
“I’m not with you on that VAR shout,” replied Groves.
“I thought it was a far better watch without VAR and I thought Martin Atkinson refereed the game very well.
“If you’re not for VAR, you have to take things on first viewing. The penalty incident on Tammy Abraham, in real time that looked like he took the ball, but in slow motion you see he takes Abraham’s foot before, and it’s a penalty.
“But you understand why the referee didn’t give the penalty – I’m in that school.
“And you might say, ‘it was the wrong decision’ but football is not an exact science.
“VAR has been brought in and it’s getting involved in handballs where nobody knows what it is, it’s getting involved in offsides…
“Goal line technology is the only thing that is black or white. The ball either crosses the line completely or it doesn’t.
“A penalty is still subjective.
“I bet you, if you asked Martin Atkinson at full-time if he would rather referee like that or with VAR, he would pick how he refereed the game tonight.
“When he’s looking at it afterwards I don’t think he’ll be beating himself up thinking, ‘I’ve missed a big one, I’ve had a major blunder there’.”