Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger says refereeing in England is stuck in ‘the dark ages’ and that move to VAR is ‘inevitable’

james olley
Gunning for change | Wenger says it's time officiating in England took a step forward: Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Arsene Wenger has branded English football’s refereeing style as something from “the dark ages” and claimed their approach is turning fans away from football.

The Arsenal boss has been heavily critical of Premier League officials in the wake of what he believes are several controversial decisions that have gone against his team this season.

The Gunners were denied victory at West Brom on Sunday after Mike Dean adjudged Calum Chambers to have handled in the box, adding to Wenger’s frustrations after defeats against Stoke, Manchester City and Watford earlier in the campaign occurred in highly-debateable circumstances. The Arsenal manager has since been charged by the Football Association for those comments.

Last month, Wenger cited Serie A – specifically a game he watched between Juventus versus Napoli – as an example to follow and when asked to elaborate on what English officials could learn from it, he said: “Quick, clear decisions, and [he] has shown authority to get the game respected. Sometimes I say to the fourth official, when after five minutes the goalkeeper starts to waste time, ‘Look up there, there are people who pay a lot of money to watch football. You are responsible to make sure that football happens on the pitch.’

“For me, they have to serve the game like we have to serve the game, and to try to give positive emotions to people who love football in the stand. That’s what they have to do. They have not to be the star. We have to respect the game as people want it to be played. That’s our responsibility.

“It’s not [appropriate] any more, in 2018, that the guy calls a player, speaks half a minute, or a minute to him, to say, ‘Look, you have to behave properly.’ That is gone. That is not the rhythm of a modern society. People want crisp, sharp action, and the referee has to make sure that that happens. This is the 1950s, where the guy talks to him…’If you’re not nice, I might punish you.’

“Come on, let’s not waste time. What does it help for the game? Nothing. Nothing happens. People who sit in the stand don’t want to see that. They want to see, ‘Come on, let’s get on with it and play. That’s our responsibility. We don’t live in the dark ages.”

Video Assistant Referees (VAR) will be trialled during this weekend’s FA Cup third round matches – the first time it will be used for competitive matches in England. Wenger has long been an advocate of introducing further technology but sounded a note of caution about the specific method of application in future.

“VAR is inevitable,” he said. “Because the referee can get help and become more efficient – and he can gain time, contrary to what people say. Of course, if we go the way where the referee walks down the side of the pitch and watches a screen, I say, ‘Leave it at home.’ That means, ‘I just want to make every single decision. I want to be the boss.’

“[In that case] let’s forget it because that is not serious, and not the way we want to see the game going. If somebody upstairs quicker than he does tells him, ‘Go, let it go,’ that’s what we want. It’s not that he walks down the side of the pitch and watches a screen, and the people in the stand freeze up there until he has made a decision. That’s not what we want. If it’s [like] that, I personally am against it.”