The Scandal of EPL Match scheduling – some things never change
It is a little known fact that EPL clubs every summer submit scheduling requests to the PL. They are only requests and the powers that be finalise the schedule after consideration of the respective requests which naturally will have several clashes, and of course the TV networks will want their “super Sunday” set ups and so on. The typical requests include playing at home in weeks following international matches and Champions league fixtures, and who you play and where over the congested holiday periods etc.
It usually works quite well (for some), Chelsea request and usually get a very gentle start for the new season, Man Utd request and usually get home games after CL fixtures (in fact all 6 group games last season saw MU play at home – not that it did them any good as they fell out of the competition at the group stage).
Arsenal certainly don’t publish what they request to the PL but you can imagine what they requested last season. With several changes in the squad likely and 2 critical CL qualifiers in the first 2 weeks – a reasonable would have been be for 2 home games in the first 3 games and teams from lower in the table (as Chelsea always seem to get). Bear in mind that with the CL qualifiers the EPL needs 4 teams in the competition and the further those teams go the better prestige for the EPL and ability to keep its 4 positions in the competition, so it is certainly important that the English 4th placed team proceeds. So, with this background what did the powers that be do to the Arsenal schedule last season?
Week 1 – send Arsenal to the furthest ground in England (Newcastle) against a very physical team with ambitions on the European qualifying positions.
Week 2 – Home to CL ambitious Liverpool
Week 3 – Away to PL ambitious Man Utd
Sandwich these with the key games against Udinese of Italy and you couldn’t dream of a worse schedule to put a team through (thank you EPL!). Five of the toughest games in 14 days and key competitors Liverpool and MU benefit from not having midweek games in the interim.
The rest was history – Arsenal won home and away in the key CL qualifiers, but drew away at Newcastle and lost to Liverpool and MU. It was also significant that for the Liverpool/MU games Arsenal suffered from injuries and suspensions to Gervinho and Song (from the Newcastle game).
If anyone doubts the impact Ferguson and MU have on this league consider the run up to the Arsenal first game of last season with Newcastle. Everyone’s favourite Joey Barton was in the midst of his Twitter crisis, having criticised Newcastle management he was effectively persona non grata – he was training on his own and not playing in Newcastle pre season fixtures, effectively waiting to be sold.
Enter Ferguson. Newcastle manager Allan Pardew is interviewed live on Sky Sports mid-week prior to the Arsenal game and mentions specifically that he had been in conversation with “Sir Alex” earlier in the week and that clubs need to have a Twitter policy and that Barton while overstepping the mark, was not aware of what the limits to his Tweeting should be! From that moment it was obvious that Ferguson had effectively intervened to get Barton onto the pitch despite that fact that he was about to be sold and was not match fit.
Again the rest is history – Barton assaults Gervinho, Gervinho retaliates with a slap but the Ref mysteriously misses the first infraction and Gervinho gets the 3 match suspension (and Arsenal do not get a potential match winning penalty for Barton assaulting Gervinho in the penalty area). Song is also suspended 3 matches for “stepping” on a Newcastle player.
By the time Arsenal met MU at Old Trafford they had quite impressively beaten Udinese home and away but it took a lot out of them (including the 35 degree heat in Udinese midweek). The team was clearly mentally and physically exhausted and in no little turmoil re the comings and goings of Nasri/Fabregas etc. What better time to play Arsenal, and even Howard Webb did not need to work his magic for MU to get its resounding 8-2 victory. But Ferguson, Pardew, Barton and the EPL match scheduler all had a part to play in Arsenal’s poor start to the season. Of course the media ignored the excellent results in the CL and trumpeted the poor start to the PL season.
Twelve months on has anything changed?
- Arsenal vs Sunderland 2.5 days after the international break.
- Everton vs MU 5 days after the international break.
Sadly until there is a level playing field the EPL will remain a joke.