One of the most bizarre scenes of the Premier League season played out in one of its most important games on Saturday, as referee Andre Mariner sent off the wrong player in the first half of the crucial clash between title contenders Arsenal and Chelsea.
The incident occurred just a quarter of the way through the match at Stamford Bridge, in which Chelsea had already taken a 2-0 lead via goals from Samuel Eto'o and Andre Schürrle. Then Chelsea's Eden Hazard found some space, attempted to make it 3-0, and this happened.
Not a half-bad save, actually -- even if the ball was probably going wide anyway. But, of course, it's also a deliberate handball in the box that denies a clear goal-scoring opportunity. With the mandatory red card for the offender and a penalty kick for Chelsea, things were about to get a whole lot worse for Arsenal.
They were also about to get weird.
That player making the very nice, very illegal save? That's Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain. Who did the referee send off? Kieran Gibbs (the player wearing 28 to the right of the above GIF).
Adding another layer to the controversy, TV cameras captured Oxlade-Chamberlain pleading his case to get sent off, only to be ignored by the referee Marriner. Man, that's a weird sentence to write.
(Hey ref, it was me!)
Was it simple a case of mistaken identity, or did Gibbs have some sort of verbal altercation with Marriner that merited the red card? Would technology, a replay system, or extra officials on the endline have helped? Why did Gibbs leave the field and walk straight down the tunnel instead of staying and pleading his case? Did I actually just encourage a player to argue more with a referee?
So many questions.
UPDATE: Yes, it looks like a simple case of mistaken identity. With Marriner barred from speaking to the media, his organization offered the following to the AP:
''Andre is an experienced referee and is obviously disappointed that an error of mistaken identity was made in this case,'' Professional Game Match Officials said in a statement. ''Incidents of mistaken identity are very rare and are often the result of a number of different technical factors. ''Whilst this was a difficult decision Andre is disappointed that he failed to identify the correct player. He expressed his disappointment to Arsenal when he was made aware of the issue.'"