Arsenal beat Leicester City 1-0 at the Emirates Stadium in a midweek Premier League game on Wednesday night thanks to an own goal from Robert Huth. But the biggest talking point after the game was not the goal but a throw-in in the dying stages of the match which sparked a confrontation between players from both sides.
With four minutes added on, the Gunners looked to hold on to their slender lead that would eventually see them move up to sixth place and help in their quest for a top-four finish. Christian Fuchs took the ball near the Leicester City dugout, ready to launch the ball into the box, but soon found himself staring at the face of Alexis Sanchez standing very close to the touch line.
At first, Fuchs put his hands up in protest as Alexis stood far too close for a successful throw-in. However, the Chilean forward was unperturbed and stood his ground, bravely acknowledging the fact that he was not concerned if the ball hit him or not.
When both players looked towards the referee Mike Jones, he just made a gesture that suggested Fuchs should ‘get on with the game’. With a renewed sense of confidence that he was doing nothing wrong, Alexis then stepped closer to the touchline to distract the Foxes full-back.
That was when Fuchs lost it and deliberately threw the ball at Alexis instead of looping it over him and into the crowd of players in and around the box. Alexis had initially made a move to jump as Fuchs took the throw-in but thought better of it and simply stood his ground.
But as Fuchs threw the ball, it hit the Arsenal forward and bounced off his shoulder. At first, Alexis did not make anything of it. But a delayed response saw him fall to the ground clutching his face a la Rivaldo in the 2002 World Cup when Brazil beat Turkey.
Kevin Friend really gave Alexis a yellow card for this. pic.twitter.com/NcjB1ZU5FT— Connor (@TikiTakaConnor) April 26, 2017
What does the rule say about throw-ins?
FIFA has clear laws regarding throw-ins – both for the player taking them and opponents who stand in the way. According to Law 15, players must keep a distance of at least two metres from the point where the throw-in is taken.
“Opponents may not be closer than 2 metres from the point at which the throw-in is taken.
So in this case, Alexis was wrong to stand that close to the touchline (literally a foot away) as Fuchs took the throw-in. Whether Alexis was aware of the law or not is a different matter. But it is the referee’s responsibility to know the law and caution him.
And the next part of the law confirms it was the referee who was at fault for failing to prevent such an incident to take place.
“To deal with these situations, the referees should warn any player within this distance before the throw-in is taken and caution the player if he fails to retreat to the correct distance.”
As both sets of players confronted each other – some in protest while others tried to calm their teammates down (even goalkeepers Petr Cech and Kasper Schmeichel were at the ‘scene of the crime’) – the referee pulled out a yellow card and brandished it at Alexis.
On the other hand, Fuchs escaped any punishment. Leicester were even given a free-kick as a result of the yellow card – one from which they almost scored.
Was the punishment correct?
In the case of Alexis, the referee was only partly correct to show him a yellow card. In failing to caution the player, the referee allowed the infringement to occur which resulted in a booking for the Gunners forward.
Players obviously will not know every law in the book and need to be reminded time and again. Of course, Alexis may have simply been trying to rile up the Leicester players to break their rhythm and prevent an equaliser.
Fuchs may have deliberately been trying to throw the ball at Alexis but he was effectively throwing the ball back into play. It is not his fault that Alexis chose to stand within two metres of the point where the throw-in took place.
The law is in Fuchs’ favour and that is why he escaped a booking. Moreover, Fuchs was already on a yellow card and that may have also been a factor the referee considered.
Wenger defends Alexis after the game
In the post-match press conference, Arsene Wenger was asked to give his views on the incident and he was very frank with his opinions on the matter.
“In the first two attempts when Fuchs tried to throw the ball in, Sanchez stood next to him and didn’t know he had to be further away. Also the referee did not tell him to move further away.
“After that, he got a yellow card because he didn’t accept the rule. I accept that. He was not the required distance.
“The referee or the linesman should have told him. Fuchs was lucky not to get a yellow card because he threw the ball at him on purpose.” – Arsene Wenger
Wenger is absolutely right. The referee was at fault for not informing Alexis that he had to back up so Fuchs could take the throw-in. Since the Arsenal defence was sitting deep, the linesman was nowhere close to the throw-in and was in no position to ask Alexis to move back.
As for Alexis, his social media posts only confirmed that he was willing to take one for the team that is in desperate need of points to have a chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season.