Webb breaks silence on divisive Gordon goal as Arsenal VAR footage released

15 November 2023 - 10:51 am

Howard Webb has admitted there “could” or “might” have been a foul during the build up to Anthony Gordon’s controversial goal against Arsenal.

Newcastle defeated the Gunners 1-0 at St James’ Park earlier this month thanks to Gordon’s strike. The goal was checked by VAR for three incidents during the build up, including an apparent push from Newcastle’s Joelinton on Arsenal’s Gabriel Magalhaes.

Referee Stuart Attwell and VAR official Andy Madley didn’t believe there was enough in Joelinton’s challenge to rule out Gordon’s winner. Webb reviewed the goal during the latest episode of Match Officials: Mic’d Up and offered his opinion on the matter.

Webb, who is in charge of Premier League refereeing body PGMOL, believes Joelinton’s challenge “could be a foul, might be a foul”. Yet he also insists it wasn’t a “clear error”. VAR’s primary purpose is to overturn ‘clear and obvious’ errors – not dubious calls.

“This was a big moment – an unusual situation with three aspects for the VAR to check whether or not the on-field decision of goal should be overturned,” Webb told Michael Owen on Mic’d Up.

The other two incidents saw Joe Willock narrowly keep the ball in play and Gordon being offside during the build up to the goal. There wasn’t enough evidence to suggest the ball was definitely out of play, nor was it clear whether Gordon was offside.

Webb explained: “We see the ball getting very close to the goal line – don’t forget we have an assistant referee who is right in line – the ball hasn’t got a lot of pace as it goes to the goal line, so he’s looking right down the line better than any of our cameras. And we know the ball is curved, so it can be over-hanging the line and we need evidence it’s out, and we don’t have that here.”

Audio footage of the on-field referees and the VAR officials discussing the incident has also been released. As Willock tries to keep the ball in play, an assistant referee can be heard saying: “Staying in, staying in! Still in, still in, still in!” At the same time, VAR official Madley uttered: “potential ball out of play.”

Neither the on-field referees nor VAR officials suspected Joelinton had fouled Gabriel in the immediate aftermath of the goal. Several Arsenal players crowded around Attwell to complain about the ball being out of play. Attwell told the VAR officials: “On-field decision is goal. The ask on the pitch is for the ball (being) out of play on the goal line.”

As Madley checked to see whether the ball had gone out of play, he asked his assistant Stuart Burt to take a look at the footage. He said: “Stu, can you have a look at this as well before we go check the goal? For me, I’ve got no conclusive evidence that the ball is out.”

Burt agreed and added: “I was going to say, you can’t go on that angle. Although it looks out, you’ve got the curvature of the ball.”

Madley and Burt then reviewed Joelinton’s challenge. Madley said: “I don’t see a specific foul on Gabriel. I see two hands on his back, but I don’t see anything of a push that warrants him flying forward like that… it’s not the goalscorer and it’s not deliberate from him.”

After deciding there was no foul, Madley and Burt discussed whether Gordon was offside. They couldn’t distinguish whether Gordon was ahead of the ball after it came off Joelinton. That left the VAR team with no choice but to award the goal.

Webb continued: “The ball then comes over and Joelinton challenges Gabriel, and it could be a foul, might be a foul. The VAR decides that the evidence from the footage isn’t clear enough to intervene with a recommendation for a review for a clear error.

“I think the talks we’ve seen after, the opinion that is split across a lot of analysis, would suggest that was a correct non-intervention because of the subjectivity. And then one of those unusual situations where the ball goes between two players, and trying to identify exactly when the ball leaves Joelinton, is really difficult to establish because of the players being so close together.

“So again, no conclusive evidence that Gordon was offside when the ball was last touched. The VAR went through that diligently and identified no clear evidence to intervene to overturn the goal. The process was actually correct.”