Mikel Arteta slammed two “scandalous” penalty decisions after Premier League leaders Arsenal were held to a goalless draw by Newcastle on Tuesday night.
Arsenal missed the chance to pull 10 points clear of Manchester City as third-placed Newcastle frustrated the hosts in a game of few clear-cut opportunities but plenty of heated moments at the Emirates Stadium.
Arteta felt his team first should have been awarded a penalty on the hour mark when Newcastle defender Dan Burn appeared to tug Gabriel’s shirt as he tried to meet a dangerous free-kick, before again raging on the touchline in stoppage time when Granit Xhaka’s cross hit Jacob Murphy’s arm.
Both appeals were waved away without a VAR interruption.
“They are two penalties, it’s very simple,” the Arsenal manager insisted to Sky Sports. “I’m talking about what I’ve seen, now, and it’s two scandalous penalties.”
Arteta was also adamant that Arsenal had “enough changes to win the game” despite only forcing one crucial save from goalkeeper Nick Pope, when Eddie Nketiah’s left-footed strike was kept out late on.
“I’m extremely proud of my players,” said the Spaniard. “The way we played, the way we dominated the game, the way we tried, the way we continued.
“We miss in the final third, we had so many situations and then we had two scandalous penalties.”
Neville, Merse disagree with handball claim
The more passionate of Arsenal’s penalty shouts was the handball claim on Murphy, with players surrounding referee Andy Madley and Arteta fuming to the fourth official, and counterpart Eddie Howe, on the touchline.
But responding to Arteta’s “scandalous” accusation, Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville contested: “I thought it would have been scandalous if it was given!”
He added: “If Mikel Arteta had lost a game of football giving away a penalty like this, he’d have been absolutely fuming.
“The amount of times I used to slide in and try and block crosses – your arm has to be somewhere. You cannot have your arms by your side when you slide to block a shot. His arm’s not in the air.
“That is not a penalty, never in a million years.”
Fellow Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson agreed: “I can’t make a case for it, if I’m honest.
“It’s drilled in, the lad’s arm is sort of behind him. I’d be disappointed if that was given against me.”
Pundits: Arsenal should have had one penalty
The Sky Sports pundits, however, did believe the Gabriel incident should have been a penalty.
“That one, he’s got a right to be annoyed with,” said Neville. “What I think the problem is here is that under [PGMOL chief refereeing officer] Howard Webb, the VAR officials have been told, [if it’s a] light touch, don’t get involved unless you really have to.
“They should have got involved here. He’s pulled the shirt off Gabriel’s back, really. I said at the time, they’re very lucky.”
Merson added: “Stonewall. That’s a foul anywhere else on the football pitch. His hand was clenched with his shirt. We saw players get booked tonight for less than that.”
Former Newcastle striker Les Ferdinand also felt his old side were fortunate on that occasion.
“I don’t understand how that is not clear and obvious,” he said on Sky Sports. “He’s got hold of his shirt, he’s stopped him. It’s a clear-cut penalty.”
Howe: Late penalty would have been a ‘travesty’
Newcastle boss Howe admitted he was worried about the handball shout after the effort his side put in against a “very, very good” Arsenal.
“Obviously at that stage of the game you’re thinking, please no, the lads have given so much,” Howe said. “That would have been a travesty for us.
“I didn’t think it was a penalty just because of the proximity, but you just never know.”
Howe added that he “didn’t remember” the Gabriel appeal but admitted he would have been “shouting for” the handball if he was in Arteta’s shoes.
“Not with the belief that it should be given, the distance is too tight,” he said. “I don’t think Jacob’s arm is aloft, and for me I don’t think that should be a penalty.”
Arsenal play Oxford United in the FA Cup next Monday before returning to Premier League action on January 15 against Tottenham, live on Sky Sports.
Newcastle have back-to-back cup matches to look forward to, firstly against Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup on Saturday and then in the Carabao Cup quarter-final, when Leicester visit January 10.