Bayern’s penalty against Arsenal highlights need for video refereeing

There was a moment in the Arsenal-Bayern second leg that revealed the injustice caused by UEFA’s continuing reluctance to turn to video technology. At 1-0 to Arsenal, and with the possibility of a comeback at least not entirely snuffed out, Robert Lewandowski broke through the Arsenal defence, inducing Laurent Koscielny into a foul that led to a red card for Arsenal, a penalty for Bayern Munich, and the extinguishing of the tie. None of this would be controversial if it were not for the fact that Lewandowski’s superior instinct as a forward had caused the official to misjudge one of the many moments in which he appears either on or just behind the offside line, or even to be on both simultaneously. It is part of Lewandowki’s skill as a forward to make that line appear so slim as to be non-existent; it is the thankless task of the official to judge whether his foot was millimetres ahed or millimetres behind the line.

However, UEFA cannot be exonerated from blame in the same way. For too long they have placed a disproportionate weight on the “human element” and the “flow” of the game, while ignoring the consequences of these inevitable misjudgements  by their officials. In a game as finely balanced as football, the right call in that circumstances would have maintained Arsenal’s slim hopes; one more goal would have ignited them just as the same time as it panicked Bayern. Football is a game of fine margins, but these margins must arise from the game itself, and replaced by ones created by refereeing errors that UEFA can avoid through the judicious use of video technology.

This task is made even more urgent by the style of play of the best centre forwards in the world. Lewandowksi’s natural tendency to time runs that start from the extreme shoulder of the last man at the very last minute possible increases the likelihood of him being offside at the same time as it makes it difficult for officials to call it correctly. Add to this his prowess as a goalscorer, and you have the threat of games being decided unfairly, with all the consequences that can entail, rather than one in which defenders are rewarded for knowing that half an inch of his boot has overstepped the line.