Emile Smith Rowe's controversial goal explained: Why it was given and what the pundits said

Arsenal goal was right to be given – but they missed chance for terrific act of sportsmanship

Emile Smith Rowe gave Arsenal the lead at Old Trafford in bizarre circumstances when he volleyed into the net with Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea lying on the turf holding his ankle.

After some deliberation the goal was awarded by referee Martin Atkinson. Here is a step-by-step guide to how one of the strangest incidents of the season unfolded.

The corner

As usual at an in-swinging corner, taken by Martin Odegaard, there were a number of bodies close to the goalkeeper although no Arsenal player standing directly in front of De Gea. Fred was marking Arsenal central defender Ben White while a combination of Alex Telles and Harry Maguire kept tabs on Takehiro Tomiyasu.

As the players converged though, replays show Fred standing on the foot of his own goalkeeper causing him to crumple in a heap as the ball was headed clear.

“It’s their own player, Fred, stamping on David De Gea,” said former referee Mark Clattenburg working for Amazon.

Fellow pundit Alan Shearer added: “De Gea going down like that, not a care to where the ball is, yes they hurt but I’m not sure he should be staying down like that. He’s up a minute later so it couldn’t have hurt that much.”

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The strike

Harry Maguire's headed clearance was met by Arsenal's Mohamed Elneny, and after the ball bounced once Smith Rowe steered it into the unguarded net with his left foot.

Crucially, Atkinson appeared to consider blowing his whistle before the ball hit the net but decided against it. This is thought to be due to protocols instructing referees to allow Var to intervene and rule out a goal if necessary. The ball crossed the line without the whistle being blown.

“If he'd blown his whistle before the ball had entered the goal it would have been more controversial as Arsenal would have been the victims of a disallowed goal,” Clattenburg said.

“The last time I saw that was when I was 11 and my goalkeeper went to go and get a sandwich,” said Thierry Henry in the Amazon studio.

The aftermath

There was not much pressure on Atkinson from Arsenal's players to award the goal, with the referee standing on the goal-line with the match in his hand.

De Gea was by now on his feet, but as replays showed there was no foul on the goalkeeper a consensus began to form among viewers that Atkinson had no choice but to give the goal.

Clattenburg said: “Is it a valid goal? Yes. If I was Arsenal captain? If they wanted to play the fair play card, if I was an Arsenal player I wouldn’t. It’s their own player, Fred, stamping on David De Gea.”

Players surround referee Martin Atkinson after Arsenal’s Emile Smith Rowe scores their first goal – Reuters

After a word in his ear-piece, Atkinson pointed to the centre-circle to award the goal with Fred and other United players incensed. The sense of injustice in Old Trafford set the first half alight.

On the question of fair play, Shearer added: “There’s an argument Arsenal could have let Man United score, but he’s on his feet a minute later, he’s walking around, he’s not limping, I think you get them every game.”

Arsenal goal was right to be given – but they missed chance for terrific act of sportsmanship

By Keith Hackett

I’ve never seen anything like it. Emile Smith Rowe's goal was one of those incidents, as a referee, that when it happens you freeze and you start to search your own mind for the laws of the game.

Referees have a thorough knowledge of the laws, it is like a second nature to them, but this was so unusual. What Martin Atkinson would have been thinking was: ‘Is there any reason I can’t give this goal?’ He found no reason to disallow it – and he was right.

If it had been an Arsenal player who stood on the goalkeeper, and not Fred, then it would have been a different story, but there was no foul and he was correct to continue playing.

In situations like this, you could ask questions of the player who goes to ground easily and stays on the ground, but the law is clear – there was no foul, no reason to stop play, even if the goalkeeper was on the floor, and so no reason to disallow the goal.

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One thing that might have happened, however, was that Arsenal could have decided the goal was unfair.

Years ago, when Arsene Wenger was manager, they were playing Sheffield United in the FA Cup and Arsenal scored from a throw-in when they were giving the ball back to the opposition goalkeeper. That game was replayed.

Paolo Di Canio, when he was playing for West Ham, caught the ball instead of scoring when the opposition goalkeeper was injured too. It was a terrific bit of sportsmanship.

There have been incidents where one side have allowed their opponents to score after incidents like this. I’d have liked to have seen that happen here. It didn’t, of course, which shows the nature of football at the elite level.

They’d argue rightly that there’s nothing in the laws, and that’s football. It’s an important game, competition is tight, there’s a huge amount of money at stake, all those sorts of things can influence the outcome.

At the end of the day, a goal has been scored, rightly, they’ve checked it and there’s no reason not to give it.

It was lucky that the game had such an experienced referee, a loyal servant to the competition, a former Fifa official. Martin Atikinson is a safe pair of hands, he remained calm. Incidents like this are what makes our game so interesting.

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