As Anthony Taylor blew his whistle and pointed to the penalty spot at the Emirates on Wednesday, it represented a massive moment in the Premier League title race.
Arsenal had gone behind earlier thanks to Kevin de Bruyne, who picked out a glorious chip after a poor back-pass from Takehiro Tomiyasu, but Taylor gave them the opportunity to draw level.
As Eddie Nketiah broke into the Manchester City penalty area, he was barged over by City goalkeeper Ederson, and Taylor pointed to the penalty spot. It was a hugely controversial decision that dominated the halftime talking points.
With so much riding on the match, it made waves through the Premier League universe. Man City came into the match three points back of Arsenal in the table, as the Gunners maintained a slim lead atop the Premier League standings. Still, the game presented the possibility for a huge swing in either direction.
There were plenty of opinions on whether Taylor got the call right, both on the field in London as well as around the world. The Sporting News takes a look at the debate.
MORE: Live minute-by-minute coverage of the match between Arsenal and Man City
Controversial Arsenal penalty vs Man City given in first half
With Manchester City leading the match 1-0 in the first half thanks to a Kevin de Bruyne opening goal, Arsenal secured a turnover in midfield and pressed forward into the attacking third.
Granit Xhaka looped the ball over the top for Eddie Nketiah, who beat Kyle Walker to the delivery. It forced Man City goalkeeper Ederson off his line to contest, and as Nketiah got his shot off, Ederson collided with the Arsenal striker.
The shot was well-placed on target, and while Nathan Ake raced back to clear it off the line, referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the penalty spot. Bukayo Saka would step up and send Ederson the wrong way, leveling the score at 1-1, where it would stay through halftime.
Watch in the USA:
After the goal line save by Ake, Arsenal are awarded a penalty.
📺: @peacock #MyPLMorning | #ARSMCI pic.twitter.com/NGLTzmMf3z
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) February 15, 2023
Watch in the UK:
The incident that led to Arsenal’s penalty…
Was it the correct decision? 👀#PLonPrime #ARSMCI pic.twitter.com/DAJxya4i55
— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) February 15, 2023
Watch in Canada:
Watch the First Half Highlights from Arsenal FC vs. Manchester City, 02/15/2023
DON’T MISS the second half, EXCLUSIVELY on @FuboTVCanada 👉
https://t.co/2w98QqBb5v#PL #PremierLeague pic.twitter.com/xLbR9M73Za
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Watch in Australia:
Arsenal are awarded a penalty and Bukayo Saka is as cool as it gets from the spot 🥶
Ederson committed the foul. Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot straight away.
WATCH | https://t.co/DfiC44zURo#OptusSport pic.twitter.com/aMrLHrHWiP
— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) February 15, 2023
Was Ederson challenge on Nketiah a foul?
The decision from Anthony Taylor to award Arsenal a penalty was highly controversial in the moment, as Manchester City players surrounded the referee to protest the call.
On one hand, Ederson was wildly out of control, flying in to the challenge late and failing to get a touch on the ball. He collided hard with Nketiah, clattering the Arsenal striker to the ground with force.
However, many believed that because the contact did not affect Nketiah’s ability to get a shot off cleanly, that Ederson’s challenge was not worthy of a penalty. Goalkeepers are allowed some leeway to contest attackers free on goal, and the tight angle for Nketiah made it a difficult opportunity to begin with.
The laws of the game are extremely vague on the topic. A foul is awarded “if a player commits any of the following offences against an opponent in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force.”
In this case, the referee did not show Ederson a yellow card, meaning he categorised this foul to be “careless” by the Man City goalkeeper, as had it been “reckless” he would have needed to show a card. “Careless” is defined as “when a player shows a lack of attention or consideration when making a challenge or acts without precaution.”
Arsenal vs Man City referee
The official who gave the penalty in the Arsenal vs Man City match was Anthony Taylor, regarded as one of the top referees in England.
Taylor has been one of the most lenient officials in Premier League action this season, dead last amongst Premier League officials in fouls per tackle, and middle of the pack for fouls per game and yellows per game. He had handed out 55 yellows in 15 matches coming into this game, fifth in the league on total cards but largely due to the number of matches officiated, as his mark of 3.67 yellows per match ranks him 11th. He had also dished out two red cards in his 15 games in charge.
The penalty given to Arsenal in this match was the third he has awarded all season in 16 matches, ranking him 15th in per-game penalties.
Later in the match, Taylor pointed to the spot for Manchester City, awarding Erling Haaland a penalty for a foul by Gabriel, but the incident was nullified on VAR review as Haaland was adjudged, correctly, to be offside on the play.
Did VAR review Arsenal penalty decision?
VAR official at the Emirates, David Coote, will have reviewed this decision from Anthony Taylor, but ultimately decided not to intervene. VAR officials have been directed only to step in when a “clear and obvious” error has been made, and Coote determined that while there may have been some controversy to this goal, there was not enough in this incident to re-referee the match on video review.
There was some controversy surrounding the appointment of the VAR official before this match. The assignment was originally given to John Brooks.
However, Brooks committed an error on VAR duties over the weekend, drawing incorrect offside lines which incorrectly ruled out a Pervis Estupinan goal for Brighton against Crystal Palace. As a result, Brooks was replaced in two of his upcoming VAR assignments, this match and Monday’s Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool.
Social media reaction to Arsenal penalty decision
On the U.S. broadcast of the match, former Everton and U.S. national team goalkeeper Tim Howard gave his thoughts, believing that while it’s close, ultimately it is a penalty. Howard explains that initially he thought it wasn’t the right call because Ederson “didn’t leave his feet” (he did, but it sounds like Howard meant that it wasn’t a tackle to ground), ultimately the challenge came late and there’s enough contact to award a penalty.
.@TimHowardGK gives a keeper’s insight on Ederson’s foul on Eddie Nketiah.
📺: @peacock #MyPLMorning | #ARSMCI pic.twitter.com/xTWvaYbwFA
— NBC Sports Soccer (@NBCSportsSoccer) February 15, 2023
The BeIN Sports studio crew didn’t believe it was the correct call, with Ronald de Boer simply stating, “no” when asked if it was the right decision.
👀 @MCATEER4, @RdBoer1970 & Andy Gray don’t believe Ederson’s challenge on @EddieNketiah9 warranted a penalty!#beINPL #ARSMCI 🔴🔵 pic.twitter.com/UYolhaO3Re
— beIN SPORTS (@beINSPORTS_EN) February 15, 2023
Some pointed out that a similar decision was made during the World Cup, with Argentina winning a penalty in their semifinal against Croatia as Dominik Livakovic fouled Julian Alvarez, leading to a Lionel Messi opening goal from the spot.
Penalty call also very similar to the one given to Argentina during the World Cup semi-final against Croatia. Definitely feel it’s the right call to give the foul on Nketiah, regardless of whether the ball was already gone. pic.twitter.com/9Occ74hD9F
— Karan Tejwani (@karan_tejwani26) February 15, 2023
Others around the globe also gave their opinions on the decision, a pivotal one that saw Arsenal draw level in a critical moment.
I understand why folks don’t think that’s a pen, and I would understand why an official wouldn’t call it (didn’t affect the shot).
But for me that’s a pen, Ederson out of control and completely obliterates Nketiah. I’m ok with the call #ARSMCI
— Kyle Bonn (@the_bonnfire) February 15, 2023