Arsenal supporter Matt Cassidy: How VAR ruined my weekend

The Gooner's Matty Cassidy got to Newcastle vs Arsenal after taking a six and a half hour Megabus

Arsenal supporter Matt Cassidy: How VAR ruined my weekend

The view from the away at St James' Park on Saturday. CREDIT: Matty Cassidy

When a friend has a spare ticket going for Newcastle away, you don't say no, you can't say no.

So I didn't as it's a great city and often a great game.

Schedule cleared, childcare taken care of and a six and a half hour Megabus booked. Yes, you did read that correctly. My trip to The Toon was on.

Keen to explore the offerings of the North-East I travelled up a day early to soak up everything it had to offer.

Turns out soaking up was essential to counter balance the Guinness consumption, as on Friday night I'd entered some sort of speed drinking competition with myself. Not sure who won, probably the pub landlord. Primarily, 'soaking up' was provided by Gregg's sausage rolls.

Anyone who has visited Newcastle will know you'll find a Gregg's on almost every street corner in the city centre.

Even if you weren't thinking about flaky pastries, you'll soon find one in your hand.

A slightly sore head welcomed me the next morning, but nothing a fry up and some Geordie sunshine couldn't fix.

That, and another pint of Guinness, which arrived in time for Fulham Vs Manchester United. A much slower pace was applied to Saturday afternoon's bevs as I watched United have an early goal dissalowed by VAR.

Now, I still take great pleasure in watching Man United lose. Growing up in the late 90s, when we were going toe-to-toe with one another, helped build up an intense hatred that I still hold to this day.

But, the situation with VAR is such that it has the ability to p*** me off even when it goes against a rival. I couldn't even muster a mischievous smirk as they were drawing lines on the pitch and doing all their VAR things.

"Why are they getting involved with this one?" I asked my mate. "It just feels very anti-football". Little did I know it wouldn't be the last time I'd be cursing its name that day.

With the early game out of the way and my VAR ranting over (for now) it was time to jump on a train into town proper.

As we walked onto the platform, we were greeted with a notifications board informing us of delays and a 30 minute wait for the next metro. I huffed and puffed like any good Londoner would, before immediately ordering a cab to our next pub.

A pre-match natter with friends followed before the team news was announced. No Ødegaard. He may not have been on top of his game in recent weeks but Newcastle away is a tough place to go.

Even more so since they've played their Football Manager cheat code and now have endless pots of money. We needed our best players and with Gabriel Jesus also missing, our captain not making it had me worried.

With the team news still being digested it was time to head to St James'. The final pre-match pint, which one never allows enough time to finish comfortably (I'll never learn), was promptly gulped as the more organised members of the group informed me it was "time to make a move".

And so we did, through the very hilly streets, weaving in and out of the home fans, passing several Gregg's in the process.

If you do make it to the away end with something left in the tank, your reward?

What must be the loftiest away end in the Premier League. Up and up we went, staircase after staircase we climbed.

"What row are we in?" *CHECKS TICKET* "Row W". *WELP*.

The penultimate row of the Upper Tier. Not one for Arsenal's acrophobics. As I gave my glasses a final clean, in hope that the small red Arsenal dots beneath would miraculously increase in size, I settled into position up in the Gods.

After a stop-start opening ten minutes we began to find some rhythm with Saka looking a threat down the right.

However, whenever he did break away, a player in black and white was there to hack him down. RIP Saka's ankles. Our 'Starboy' has had to tweek his game since bursting onto the scene as a fresh faced teenagager, he's a threat and teams know that from the get-go.

But he just doesn't get anywhere near enough protection from referees. Week after week, time and time again he cuts in and gets chopped down. No card.

So it was no surprise that Kai Havertz was the first player to go in the book with the most yellowiest of yellow cards you're likely to see. The Newcastle fans were up in arms and wanted more, but despite the protests a yellow card was the correct decision. It's just not happening for Kai at the moment and that tackle was perhaps a fair representation of his Arsenal career to date. Messy.

We huffed and puffed, as did Newcastle but it was a game that struggled to find any consistent rhythm, and before you knew it, the first half was over and it was time for some more stairs. My favourite.

The usual scramble for a half time beer had already begun, despite the decision to watch stoppage time from the concourse. My reward was a warm, overpriced pint of Carling.

A few hellos to familiar faces followed before a final ascent to Row W. The game seemed to pick up its pace in the second half as we mustered what was probably our best chance of the game.

Gabi Martinelli broke free down the left after some nice passing triangles and crossed to Declan Rice who attempted a long range header that went wide. You don't see many long range headers. And you don't see many long range headers that end up in the back of the net. Sadly this was another for the unsuccessful collection. Rice was arguably our best player on the night, but as brilliant as he's been this season a 25 yard header was beyond his capabilities.

Newcastle made some changes, with Murphy and former Arsenal man Joe Willock coming on to replace Almiron and Wilson. Soon after the 'fun' started. Murphy had a cross-shot that pinged across goal and looked to be heading out.

Apparently not as Willock kept it in, crossed it back into the box for Joelinton to challenge Gabriel in the air.

The ball then dropped to Gordon who smashed it in from close range. The Newcastle fans went wild before being stopped in their tracks, at least momentarily, by VAR.

What followed was farcical. Forget whether it's a goal or not, whether the ball was in or out, whether Joelinton fouled Gabriel or whether Gordon was offside.

For me, it's the complete f****** mess that VAR creates when it decides to 'get involved'.

The players are stood around waiting; the fans in the ground stare gawp at the big purple screen like gormless teens.

It just kills EVERYTHING.

The spontaneity of football and being 'in the moment' is why we turn up every week. We're now in a situation that if a goal's scored, it's always in the back of your mind that it could be disallowed. You simply can't enjoy it like you used to.

Now, I'm not naive enough to suggest VAR shouldn't be used at all. It can work if applied correctly.

Serious foul play that's been missed. YES. Goal line technology. YES. But what happened to 'clear and obvious'?

Have they just moved the goal posts? (sorry). If you have to stop play for five minutes to scrutinise something to the nth degree, then surely it can't be clear and obvious. It needs a rethink, and it needs one FAST. Howard Webb has one hell of a job on his hands and Saturday will only add to the debate.

The goal stood, we lost and understandably Mikel Arteta was very angry after the game.

Martin Keown suggested that perhaps Mikel should have waited before speaking to the media so he had time to calm down, but I don't think it would've made much difference.

He's probably still angry as I write this on the Monday morning after the game.

And what's to gain from a media blackout? Sometimes things need saying and it's not the first time.

Arsenal released a statement fully backing Arteta and we can only hope that other Premier League clubs follow suit.

Viva la revolución.

Matt Cassidy is the Gooner's Social Media editor

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