With the Premier League, well underway now and our next game against our North London rivals. I think it is time to address an issue. For the last two seasons Arsenal FC have been given back to back rival games and more importantly, have been again drawn at home again to play our north london rivals first; the last time our rivals hosted first in the league was the 2007-2008 season not counting league cup games. This is becoming a borderline between annoyance and abuse now as fans, players and coaches aren’t allowed to focus on big matches once a month when they come as there’s next week to worry about as well. Then again, there are no easy games in the league. This becomes an issue for the manager, if he wishes to string a strong side; there are so many variables that could mean that the player misses important games. So where do the fixtures issue lay? I think it is time to examine a few of the culprits and let everyone decide for himself or herself who is to blame.
Interestingly enough the FA does not hold much influence according to the premier league website. Each club has to withstand legislation and its laws through each football body and its national laws. It seems the FA is there as a pillar to support football and not into the game to make as much money as possible. However, all coaches and referees must be a qualified to FA or other bodies meaning that if for example a player like David Luiz is sent off and the club decide to argue the case then that’s where the FA become involved. For fixtures though the FA have two competitions that can help or hinder a team’s season, the League cup and FA cup. You could argue that these competitions both can affect fixtures later in the season.
The Premier league
As the Premier League is a body that is run outside of the FA then they have to follow FA and other governing body rules. However, they set the fixtures. Last season we ended up playing our rivals and competitors for the top four in back-to -back consecutive games continuously. This season it is happening less often. Nevertheless, it can disrupt a teams form going into these games in addition imagine that these teams had a semi final in the League cup, playing in the FA cup and were still playing games in Europe as well. In two weeks, you could run a squad to the bare minimum because you are teams played games home and away all across the country; had to fly to a country you could just about spell or pronounce. In addition, on the Sunday you are playing away to Manchester United. However, would it be because you have fixture congestion outside of the league? You decide amongst yourselves.
This one is an interesting choice. The TV rights for the premier league globally is worth £5 billion pounds, for which each team will get an equal slice of that money. Which works out as £250 million pounds per team. In the UK, the TV companies Sky and BT have the rights to show the games live. This season Sky has decided to choose games on a Friday (sometimes), Saturday and Sunday while BT choose the games for Saturday lunchtime and any additional games that aren’t picked up on the by Sky. With the TV companies, changing the fixtures to make sure that there is a full capacity to watch their games.
For these companies the games are only important to make sure viewers are going to watch for example not many people will want to watch Burnley take on Norwich but more people will watch “top six games like Manchester United v Chelsea”. Which might explain the reasoning of Arsenal playing back-to-back teams but honestly, I think this hurt us the most especially right at the start of the season playing against the defending champions and a side that we then played in back in May for our chance to be back in the Champions League. To end this part of the argument, TV rights could additionally help with fixture build up, especially if competitions like the League Cup, FA Cup and European competitions come into play.
This one is the most obscure one to the argument oon our fixtures issues. However, here is the bigger issue. When we play our home games not many other London clubs will be able to play unless they are outside of the Islington or North London area. This is for fan safety such as not clashing with rival games in the area or to help local police. I remember when we played Koln a few years ago. Because of the fan disruption the police had asked to push the game back by an hour. In the end, I was unable to watch Bellerin score his goal because I had to leave the stadium. With these types of games in European competition, this issue caused many fans to turn back and not watch the game or find a local pub and watch it instead. However, at Arsenal there is a wide variety of groups from all around the world at the game. Theres nothing wrong with this the globalisation of the Premier League and then add on of our tours in preseason expand the club. Means that we might be sitting next to a Londoner or a fan who has travelled from further away. The main thing is to remember that however they got their; the club have to ensure safety of the fans attending.
I am sure that many people could add points to this debate and from this or even have different ideas on who to blame. This is just a taster of who I thought could be behind these decisions. For me personally the Premier League as a whole have to accept responsibility for why we had to endure what we did last season and again this year. I am not a fan of having to play Liverpool one week and then playing our North London rivals so close together. Priorities switch. Making it very tactical for managers as well as strategic planning for the next few games. Additionally, this is the same for fans attitudes towards each match.