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All Things Footie | Thursday, April 3 | Jordan

The myth of the away goal advantage

Wednesday’s 1-1 draw between Arsenal and Liverpool at the Emirates stadium got me thinking about something that’s been bugging me for a while. Away goals.

We all know they’re stupid (and I don’t just mean in situations where home and away games are played in the same stadium) there’s nothing more frustrating than going out of a cup competition because of them, so when they’re to our advantage we can’t help but think that they have some mythical power beyond a simple leveller of stalemates.

Almost every Arsenal fan I spoke to on Wednesday night and Thursday morning was thoroughly depressed about the draw not necessarily because Arsenal should (on the balance of play) have easily beaten Liverpool, but because they had surrendered an Away Goal. To complement the depression in North London, most Liverpool fans I saw were chirpier than usual, and really quite happy with the result, not because they had managed to engineer a draw out of what should have been a 3-1 defeat, but because (you guessed it) they had an Away Goal.

On the surface, the reactions are obvious—it means that stalemate in the second leg is enough for Liverpool to progress—however from Arsenal’s point of view, there’s not really much difference between 0-0 and 1-1. Either way, if they are to progress they’ll need to score at Anfield. Sure, 0-0 would mean they’d have 120 minutes to score rather than 90, but assuming they do score (which given that they’ve only failed to on four occasions this season is a reasonable assumption) the away goal advantage immediately swings in their favour, for Liverpool would need to score twice to win the game. An equaliser would mean Arsenal have until the end of extra time to get another goal, and if they did Liverpool would need a total of three goals to win.

This also leads on to another annoyance of mine: playing at home in the second leg of a two-legged tie is supposed to be an advantage, but it’s ONLY an advantage if you win the first leg, in almost any other situation (barring a high-score draw) there’s a distinct disadvantage dealt by the away goals rule, in that you’ve already scored as many away goals as you can possibly score, so the momentum is with the away team.

I can see the theory and logic behind both the away goals rule and playing the second leg at home as a reward, but like many policies in this great game of ours, it’s not been thought through enough. I won’t even get on to the fact that it means that Liverpool are now tacitly encouraged to play for a 0-0 draw, which will no doubt result in a massive bore-a-thon second leg … I’ll just leave it with this:

Scrapping away goals would be to the benefit of everyone, it’d encourage more open football, it’d give teams playing at home in the second leg a genuine advantage, and it’d make the calculations a hell of a lot easier for poor fans (not to mention mathematically challenged referees) trying to work out whether 2-1 takes their team through or not.

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All Things Footie | Monday, February 25 | Jordan

Punishment should fit the crime

I missed the start of the Birminham City v Arsenal match on Saturday afternoon, but when I entered the pub nearly fifteen minutes after kick-off, I was mildly chuffed when told that I'd only missed three minutes of football despite there being nine on the clock. That was until I saw Eduardo on a stretcher, and the look on the face of Gary Lewin (Arsenal physio). I heard murmurs of broken-this and shattered-that, and a red card – no replays meant I was simply left with a bemused and slightly stale taste in the mouth for the rest of the game, regardless of the result.

Now that I've seen the tackle, and many disturbing images of an unnaturally angled fibia, I don't think there's any way one could say that Martin Taylor was malicious in his intent. It was no Joey Barton/Lee Bowyer/Robbie Savage/Dietmar Hamann tackle. However, malice or not, it was an awful reckless mistake, and while we all make mistakes, we're usually punished for them in some way that fits the crime committed. There's public outcry when prisoners are released early, when loopholes are used to avoid severe punishment, and when offenders don't get their 'just desserts'.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that somebody should break Martin Taylor's leg, what I am saying though is simple – the punishment for Taylor should (but won't of course) fit the crime.

Martin Taylor should be banned from professional football for as long as Eduardo can't play for. At the very least, the FA should consider whether it can possibly hand out the same ban for a tackle that could end a player's career, and someone who pushes a ref on his arse.

The simplest punishments are often the best. It's not 'eye-for-an-eye' justice, it's a deterrent against anyone trying to 'put the wind up' opponents by recklessly flinging yourself around the park. The worst thing about Saturday's game was that even following Eduardo's horrific injury, Birmingham's players were throwing themselves into all kinds of rowdy challenges – late, mistimed, or just plain lazy – as if one broken leg wasn't enough.

Arsene Wenger may have been a little over-the-top in his criticism of Taylor, but he was absolutely right in condemning those who have advocated getting 'stuck in' to Arsenal: to wind them up , disrupt their play, and get the better of them. I'd put my life savings (a rather large, negative number) that at least ten times last week Taylor was told that he should give Arsenal players a good kick because they 'don't like it up 'em'.

It was always going to lead to this.

I'm certain that, subconsciously, referees ignore a lot of the 'routine' fouls on Arsenal players – Hleb's quick feet usually lead to him being kicked up in the air five to ten times in most Premiership games -- because all they see is the image of a fancy-dan foreigner on the receiving end of a 'good, honest, English tackle'.

If Steven Gerrard had been on the receiving end of some of the horrific tackles he's meted out in the past we'd see blanket condemnation of the 'dirty foreigner' that injured poor old 'Stevie G'. Could you imagine for a second someone daring to say that a tackle that shattered John Terry's ankle 'wasn't even a yellow card'?

Latent xenophobia is what it is, and it's ugly and embarrassing for the sport.

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  1. The myth of the away goal advantage
  2. Punishment should fit the crime
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