- in Technology
The armpit – rarely has a relatively insignificant body part provoked so much derision.
‘Shaved or unshaved’, ‘spray or roll-on’ were the only occasions it aroused conversation – but then came the introduction of the video assistant referee to the Premier League.
It has effectively made the officials’ naked eye redundant regards contentious offside decisions, and decreed that a player is off if the tiniest fraction of their body, with which they can score, is ahead of the last defender.
As a consequence we have seen occurrences of the “armpit offside” this season, with the phrase becoming shorthand for the narrowest of marginal offside decisions.
There were another three such decisions on Saturday with former striker Jon Walters declaring on BBC’s Final Score that talking about it was “getting boring” and that the use of VAR in offside decisions needs reviewing.
And former Tottenham midfielder Jermaine Jenas said on Match of the Day: “It’s essentially ruining the game.”
So when was the first ‘armpit offside’?
VAR had already provoked a certain level of outrage since its introduction at the start of the season, but that went up a notch in November when Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino was denied a goal against Aston Villa after the VAR team declared a goalscoring part of his body was offside – in his case his shoulder/armpit.
Liverpool won 2-1, but their usually jovial manager Jurgen Klopp was not laughing.
“When we talk about serious moments, very important moments in football, it’s not right to sit here and everyone wants to laugh about it,’ said the German.
“It is too serious. Managers get sacked for losing football games. They just have to clarify it.”
From the Premier League’s point of view, the video technology is consistent across all games – and unlike other major European leagues, it chooses to broadcast the whole process of the VAR decision, drawing the offside lines on-screen.
Saturday’s glut of ‘armpit offsides’
Teemu Pukki, Wilfried Zaha and Dan Burn walk into a bar… and talk about the injustices of VAR.
The squad at Stockley Park who assess crucial decisions before passing judgement made no new friends from Brighton, Crystal Palace and Norwich, who all fell foul to the ‘armpit offside’.
Pukki looked to have put Norwich 2-0 up against Tottenham, but a VAR check deemed the Finn to have been off. That match finished 2-2.
Max Meyer’s strike for Crystal Palace in the 1-1 draw against Southampton was chalked off after Zaha strayed offside in the build-up, while Burn – whose 6ft 7in frame may result in him becoming the ‘armpit offside champion’ – was denied a goal against Bournemouth in the Seagulls’ 2-0 win.
How did they react?
It was the straw that broke the camel’s back – again – as pundits and the public fumed at the latest VAR verdicts.
Former Spurs midfielder Jermaine Jenas: Fans are not enjoying what’s happening, players are not celebrating. I really hope Ifab (football’s international body for the laws of the game) are not stubborn enough to realise something needs to change to stop that occurring. For offsides I’d get rid of it.
Norwich boss Daniel Farke on VAR: I don’t want to complain too much about this topic. My understanding is that VAR should make the game more fair. My gut feeling [after Pukki’s goal] was that we would find a situation where it was offside.
Perhaps they found a part of his shoulder that was not onside. In my eyes, VAR doesn’t make the game more fair in this situation. The striker should be given the advantage. Being 2-0 up at half-time would have changed the game. It was a crucial situation.
Walters after Zaha was ruled offside: It’s killing it. There’s been that much uproar it’s going to reviewed – every week we talk about it. It’s boring to talk about it because it’s happening all the time.
Former Everton midfielder Kevin Kilbane on Final Score: It’s bizarre we’ve changed the rules to benefit everyone – we’re now not giving attacking players benefit of the doubt. Another armpit offside [referring to Zaha] just like against Brighton – it’s unbelievably harsh.
Former Arsenal Women’s player Alex Scott: It was great play by Zaha – a bit of magic – to have it ruled out…
Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker: Here we go again. More nonsense from VAR. Pukki goal ruled out when level. If you have to draw lines and dots and it’s still not clear one way or the other, then please stop undermining the on-field officials. Absurd.
Brighton’s Dan Burn: I’m gutted, that’s the third time I’ve been done by VAR. But if it is offside it is offside. I know it was only an armpit or something stupid like that but if that’s how we’re playing then it is the same for everyone.
Former Blackburn midfielder Steven Reid speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live about the Burn decision: The whole VAR thing is starting to confuse me. That’s just too many phases earlier for it to be given offside.
Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson: I was never one to be banging the drum for VAR, but if the mass media want it, and the public want it once again you have to be mature enough to accept it. I’m one of the ones sensible enough, or logical enough to accept that we wanted it, we’ve got it, it’s there for us so we get on with it.
What you told us
Jake: Some ridiculous decisions from VAR today. Needs to be some form of referee’s call, like in cricket. Give the benefit of the doubt to the referee in tight offsides or if they can’t make a decision within a certain time.
Jabo on Pukki’s disallowed goal: Spurs fan, I will stop watching football, this is not offside, not in a million years. The way VAR is used to make these calls is an embarrassment for the sport.
Steve, Bicester: I was pro-VAR when it was announced, but the way it’s being used and interpreted is a complete and utter shambles in the EPL. The crowds are right, it’s not football anymore. Bin it until they know how to use it.
Noel Fitzpatrick: At the rate VAR is going, Mikel Arteta will be ordering David Luiz and Matteo Guendouzi to get their hair cut for fear it would be playing players onside… and Brendan Rodgers would be having palpitations at Hamza Choudhury.