Manchester City’s Mateo Kovacic “extremely fortunate to stay on the field” against Arsenal, admits refs chief

Referee Michael Oliver didn’t brandish a red card in Manchester City’s 1-0 loss at Arsenal because he didn’t “want to have a negative impact on the game by overreacting”, admits the head of match officials.

Howard Webb – chief refereeing officer of the Professional Games Match Officials Ltd, which controls Premier League officials – said Mateo Kovacic was “extremely fortunate” not to receive a second booking.

Arsenal won the blockbuster through a deflected finish from Gabriel Martinelli in the dying minutes but City’s Kovacic provided another flashpoint after escaping punishing for a challenge on Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard.

Kovacic was late in the challenge as the ball had already been moved on when the challenge connected with Odegaard’s leg – with his studs going into the players’ ankle.

And Webb told ‘Match Officials Mic’d Up’ last night: “I think he was an extremely fortunate player to stay on the field of play.

“I’m pretty confident that if a red card had been given by Michael Oliver on the day then it would’ve been a pretty straightforward check complete.”

He added: “He doesn’t want to have a negative impact on the game by over-reacting to something. Sometimes players will be on a yellow card and (the referee) will be pressured to show a second one.”

Webb attempted to explain the key differences between the Kovacic incident and the red card that Chelsea’s Malo Gusto received for a similar challenge.

Webb said: “The contact is a little bit more to the side with kind of like an upright foot as supposed to a side-on foot that we saw with Gusto.

“I think that led the VAR to feel that the on field decision here of yellow card wasn’t clearly and obviously incorrect and therefore check completing it, feeling that if it had intervened it would have been a re-refereeing of the decision on the field.”

Six minutes later Kovacic made an almost identical tackle to his first, this time on Arsenal player Declan Rice.

With the VAR unable to intervene on issues of second yellow card offences, the referee is the decisive voice, controversially Oliver decided against giving Kovacic a second yellow card – which would’ve sent the City midfielder off and reduced is side to 10-men.

Webb said: “I think when he [referee Michael Oliver] reflects on it he’ll realise that the second one should’ve been a second yellow card, which would’ve seen Kovacic sent off for two yellow cards.”

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