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The VAR Review: Saka offside decision; handball by Gabriel, Scamacca, Antonio, Rashford

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Nicol: Liverpool were all over the place (1:02)

Steve Nicol criticises Liverpool's defence after their 3-2 defeat against Arsenal. (1:02)

Video Assistant Referee causes controversy every week in the Premier League, but how are decisions made, and are they correct?

After each weekend we take a look at the major incidents, to examine and explain the process both in terms of VAR protocol and the Laws of the Game.

- How VAR decisions affected every Prem club in 2022-23
- VAR's wildest moments: Alisson's two red cards in one game
- VAR in the Premier League: Ultimate guide

JUMP TO: West Ham 3-1 Fulham | Everton 1-2 Man United | Newcastle 5-1 Brentford | Palace 2-1 Leeds

Arsenal 3-2 Liverpool

Possible offside: Saka on Martinelli goal

What happened: Arsenal took the lead in the first minute through Gabriel Martinelli, but there was a review for offside in the buildup against Bukayo Saka (watch here.)

VAR decision: Goal stands

VAR review: A first, it seems, as the VAR was unable to make a full calibrated check on Saka's offside position.

The VAR set the kick-point on Ben White, who played the pass to Saka, and then looked to use one of the other cameras, which are all time-synced, to apply the offside lines. Technology provider Hawk-Eye has five cameras around the pitch which can be used to place the offside lines, but Saka was out of shot on all of them at the point the ball was played by White.

From the tactical camera around the halfway line, which isn't calibrated for offside, there is definitely a question of offside against Saka as he's running back, specifically whether his back foot is ahead of the last defender, Trent Alexander-Arnold. But as the VAR could not apply the lines, Saka's offside position cannot be determined so the VAR has to stay with the decision on the pitch, which was onside. There is no suggestion the onside decision was incorrect based upon the available evidence, and if Saka had been clearly offside the decision would have been changed.

This angle, a few seconds later into the move after the White's pass, shows how it is possible for a player to be off the screen to the left of the shot, though there is no continual "blind spot."

A similar issue happened in Serie A last month, though much worse as it resulted in a winning goal being wrongly disallowed by the VAR. Juventus scored an injury-time winner against Salernitana, but the VAR ruled it out for offside against Leonardo Bonucci. Antonio Candreva was stood close to the corner flag before a set piece was taken, playing the whole Juventus attack onside.

Not one of the cameras calibrated for offside had Candreva in view, and the VAR missed his presence during the review. It later became clear from uncalibrated tactical cameras that the goal should have stood.

Semi-Automated Offside Technology, which is in use in the Champions League group stage and will also be seen at the World Cup, cannot come to the domestic leagues soon enough. In Italy they hope to introduce it in January, but for the Premier League it is unlikely to arrive before next season.

Possible penalty: Handball by Gabriel

What happened: In the 15th minute, Diogo Jota attempted to play the ball into the area and it hit the arm of Gabriel. Referee Michael Oliver waved play on.

VAR decision: No penalty

VAR review: Arm position alone hasn't been the determining factor in a handball offence since the law was changed in the summer of 2021. A series of considerations need to be taken into account by the referee and the VAR, most importantly the position of a player's arm relative to their body movement, proximity to the ball and the speed at which is has been played. It means a player is not automatically determined to have committed a handball offence just by having their arm away from their body.

Of course, added layers of subjectivity mean less consistency -- while handball situations may seem the same it's still about how it's interpreted in the opinion of the referee, and indeed the VAR.

There's no doubt the ball hits Gabriel's arm, and that his arm is away from the body, but the VAR (Darren England) decided that it was hit at point-blank range and the defender had no chance to react. That said, we have come to expect this should be a penalty this season. Even if you can make a case for Gabriel using his arm to balance as he comes to a stop, it is still a long way from the body and creates a barrier.

The purpose of VAR, however, is not to bring overall consistency of decision-making, that's impossible with a system that's applying the "clear and obvious" criteria to a referee's decision, rather than a catch-all approach. It means this can not be a penalty, and other similar incidents be a penalty -- based upon what the referee gives at the time.

But what is proximity to one referee might not be to another. When is too close, too close? Last month, VAR Stuart Attwell advised that Newcastle United should be awarded a penalty for handball by Bournemouth's Jefferson Lerma as he moved his hand to the ball.

But, at the Emirates, Michael Oliver decided proximity was more important. You can see from the images that Gabriel is closer to the ball that Lerma, and such decisions will always bring subjective differences.

Let's take the penalty awarded to Brentford for handball by Newcastle's Dan Burn on Saturday. If proximity was a consideration on Gabriel, how could Burn have a penalty given against him? Most importantly, Burn's arm is in a different position to Gabriel's, way above the head and not justifiable for his body movement, even though he is jumping. Proximity would be a consideration for the VAR if the referee hadn't given the penalty, but the arm is very high in comparison to other such decisions.

Possible offside: Nunez in buildup to goal

What happened: Liverpool equalised in the 34th minute, with a question of offside earlier in the move by goal scorer Darwin Nunez.

VAR decision: Goal stands

VAR review: Nunez was offside when the ball was first played forward by Alexander-Arnold, but crucially he doesn't become involved in that phase of play.

Gabriel makes a failed attempt to clear the ball, but he's not being put under pressure by Nunez, who cannot be offside merely by his presence. Luis Diaz, who was onside, is the player to runs onto the loose ball and that creates the next phase. Diaz then squares for a now-onside Nunez to score.

For Nunez to be offside, he would have to challenge or directly impact Gabriel.

If Nunez had collected the ball from Alexander-Arnold's pass, the VAR would have disallowed the goal. The updated guidance on offside states that a player who is stretching for the ball without control, as Gabriel was, cannot be considered to have made a "deliberate play" to reset the phase at that point.

Possible red card: Tsimikas on Jesus

What happened: Konstantinos Tsimikas was battling for the ball with Arsenal's Gabriel Jesus in the 58th minute with the score 2-2, and the Liverpool defender caught him in the face with his arm.

VAR decision: No red card.

VAR review: The best outcome was a yellow card from referee Oliver, because Tsimikas does lead into the challenge with arm, but no action was taken.

The VAR has to decide that there is a clear red-card offence, for instance if Tsimikas has thrown his arm into Jesus in an act of violent conduct. There isn't enough in this to cross the threshold for a red card, and the VAR cannot advise the referee to show the yellow.

Possible penalty overturn: Thiago's foul on Jesus

What happened: In the 76th minute, Arsenal were awarded a penalty when Jesus went down under a challenge from Thiago.

VAR decision: Penalty stands

VAR review: This again comes down to the weight of the on-field decision. Once the VAR has identified contact on Jesus by Thiago, and Oliver says he saw that Jesus was kicked on his ankle, there is very little place for the VAR to go.

It is without doubt a very soft penalty, and it's highly unlikely the VAR would intervene and advise a penalty if Oliver hadn't awarded it.


West Ham 3-1 Fulham

Possible handball: Scamacca goal

What happened: West Ham United took the lead in the 62nd minute when Gianluca Scamacca took control of a pass from Lucas Paqueta and lobbed the ball over Bernd Leno. There was a check for offside and handball against Scamacca.

VAR decision: Goal stands

VAR review: Scamacca was shown to be onside, but the controversy is over the possible handball.

When overturning a goal for accidental attacking handball, the VAR is looking for definitive proof of the offence. That means there will be occasions when some will feel that evidence is present, but the VAR might not agree the threshold has been reached; this is one of those occasions.

Last week, Barcelona were denied an injury-time penalty against Inter Milan in the Champions League when the ball appeared to hit the raised arm of defender Denzel Dumfries -- as with the Scamacca case, the VAR decided he couldn't be sure there was a handball, yet many watching felt it should have been a spot kick.

This differs from the penalty Everton weren't awarded against Manchester City last season, when the VAR failed to identify a handball by Rodri. In that case, the VAR had many angles which showed the ball had hit the City player on the arm, yet the VAR incorrectly decided there wasn't the evidence the ball had hit the arm low enough for it to be an offence. In the Scamacca case, it was a question of whether the ball brushed the striker's fingers at all as it dropped to the ground (there is no evidence of it hitting the elbow following the bounce.)

The ball does appear to deviate ever so slightly as it passes Scamacca hand, and that's all that's needed for a handball offence by the goal scorer. On balance, the correct decision would have been to disallow this goal, but you can understand why the VAR, Michael Salisbury, felt he didn't have definitive proof when the touch was so slight.

It might be better in a case like this, when there is clearly a question of a possible handball, for the referee to also view the incident at the monitor. If he too agrees that he cannot see the evidence of the handball, we've at least closed the review off and it's a better "sell" for the final decision.

There will be no consideration for a player's reaction after scoring, with Scamacca standing still after scoring the goal.

Possible handball: Antonio goal

What happened: West Ham wrapped up the win in the 91st minute when Michail Antonio scored. The ball touched the striker's arm before he went on to score, leading to a VAR check.

VAR decision: Goal stands

VAR review: This comes down to the deeper guidance around accidental attacking handball, and the specific requirement that a player "scores in the opponents' goal immediately after the ball has touched their hand/arm, even if accidental." It means there can be an accidental handball by a striker before he scores, as long as he doesn't score immediately.

With Antonio, after the ball hits the arm he has to run a short distance before shooting. The shot is saved by Leno, the ball is then played by defender Tim Ream back onto his goalkeeper, and Antonio scores from the rebound.

The original save, and the play of the ball by a defender, removes the immediacy from the accidental handball offence.

There is an argument that Antonio deliberately handled the ball, which would mean immediacy is no longer a factor and it's only about the attacking phase. There is movement of Antonio's arm, but he's being challenged by Joao Palhinha at the same time which would change the West Ham attacker's general body movement.

But this wasn't the only such decision we saw this weekend, and it produced the opposite outcome.


Everton 1-2 Manchester United

VAR overturn: Rashford goal disallowed for handball

What happened: Marcus Rashford thought he had scored a third goal for Manchester United in the 80th minute, and there was a review for handball by the striker.

VAR decision: Goal disallowed

VAR review: While Antonio's goal against Fulham was allowed to count, Rashford's wasn't. So what was the difference?

This handball happened in a similar position to Antonio's, but Rashford didn't have an initial shot saved by Jordan Pickford; he tried to take the ball around the goalkeeper (who got a touch on the ball) before slotting the ball into the net.

So Antonio had a shot, and a defender played the ball, before he then scored. Rashford continued his forward momentum and scored with his first shot.

Immediacy is a grey area, however, and there's an argument that the handball happened too far back and that Rashford attempted to go around Pickford rather than shoot should nullify the offence. But there are clear differences in the Antonio and Rashford cases to explain the opposite outcomes.

If Rashford had passed the ball to a teammate to score the goal would have counted; accidental attacking handball applies only to the goal scorer.


Newcastle 5-1 Brentford

VAR overturn: Toney offside in buildup to Mbeumo goal

What happened: Bryan Mbeumo thought he had put Brentford 1-0 up in the 10th minute, but there was a VAR check for offside against Ivan Toney.

VAR decision: Goal disallowed

VAR review: Even though Toney didn't touch the ball, that he moved his foot out of the way to allow it to run through to Mbeumo is enough to create the offside offence.

By feigning to play the ball, Toney has to impact the decision-making of defender Fabian Schar, who is behind the striker.

Remember what we discussed about the Nunez decision in the Arsenal-Liverpool game. If Toney had simply stood still, not making a movement in relation to the ball or a run which directly impacts Schar, the goal would have counted.


Crystal Palace 2-1 Leeds United

Possible red card: Doucoure foul on Adams

What happened: Cheick Doucoure was booked for a bad challenge on Leeds United's Tyler Adams in the 14th minute. There was a VAR check for a red card.

VAR decision: No red card

VAR review: Isn't this the same as the red card shown to Tottenham's Emerson Royal for the foul on Arsenal's Martinelli last weekend? It's similar, but not quite the same.

There are two key differences. Firstly, in the case of Doucoure the contact on the opponent is low on the ankle, but with Royal it was much higher up on the Martinelli's leg.

And secondly, and of course most importantly, the decision on Doucoure on the field of play was a yellow, whereas with Royal it was red.

Doucoure made a very poor challenge and could very easily have been sent off, but in this case the VAR, Peter Bankes, decided a yellow card was an acceptable disciplinary outcome from the referee, Paul Tierney.

Information provided by the Premier League and PGMOL was used in this story.