MARTIN Atkinson will take charge of Arsenal’s pivotal Premier League encounter with table-topping Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium this weekend.
The 44-year-old, from West Yorkshire, will oversee the eagerly-awaited lunchtime kick-off on Sunday as Arsene Wenger’s team seek to boost their title hopes by completing a league double over the unexpected leaders.
He will be assisted by experienced linesmen Stephen Child and Mike Mullarkey, while Roger East – who will be in the middle for Chelsea’s home clash with Newcastle on Saturday – is the fourth official.
The Bradford-born whistler has handled 32 games in all competitions – including three Euro 2016 qualifiers and three Champions League group stage matches.
He has brandished 111 yellow cards but is yet to produce a red card and has awarded only one penalty – to Southampton in their 3-0 win over West Brom in January.
Atkinson was accused of being ‘arrogant’ by Everton’s Phil Jagielka after the official – who failed to spot the ball going out of play in the build-up to Kevin de Bruyne’s goal – poked fun at his defending in their Capital One Cup semi-final second leg defeat at Manchester City last month.
It was recently revealed that the Fifa Elite Category referee earned over £8,000 more than Prime Minister David Cameron last season.
During 2014-15, Atkinson endured a busy campaign in which he oversaw 48 games across six different competitions – including semi-finals in the FA Cup and Capital One Cup.
His most high-profile appointments, however, came in Europe having received a Champions League semi-final first leg and the honour of refereeing the Europa League final between Dnipro and Sevilla in Warsaw.
It will be the fourth time Atkinson visits the Emirates this season after the Gunners’ 2-0 defeat by West Ham on the opening weekend, 1-1 draw with north London rivals Spurs in November and their 3-1 FA Cup win over Sunderland on January 9.
The Boxing Day loss at Anfield is one of only two in the league suffered by Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes after 25 games as they sit five points clear at the top heading into the weekend.
The other is a 5-2 defeat at the hands of Arsenal in September – officiated by Craig Pawson – in which Alexis Sanchez scored a hat-trick and the division’s top scorer Jamie Vardy netted a brace.
Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini – whose side host second-placed Spurs later on Sunday – has claimed Leicester have the advantage in the title race because the Premier League is their sole focus.
Arsenal currently sit third in the table after ending a four-game winless run and three matches without scoring by beating Bournemouth 2-0 last weekend.
SOCIAL MEDIA REACTION:
Supporters on Twitter were a little displeased with the appointment to say the very least…