By Tony Attwood
Everyone, it seems, (other than those at Chelsea) is now complaining about the way the football fixtures have been sorted out. Right at the start of the holiday period the bean counters at the Telegraph worked out not only how many days rest various clubs had but also how many miles they had to travel. Chelsea won on both counts.
The problem is twofold.
First the production of the fixture list is a highly secret affair, and has none of the randomness built into it that was the case in by-gone years. Worse, no one will admit to being part of the team that fixed the fixtures.
Second, TV then gets their hands on the games and selects the ones they want, to maximise their Xmas and New Year audiences – thus upping the amount of money they get in from advertisers. It is the negotiators from the PL who set out what the TV stations can and can’t do, and they agreed to every demand, in return for more and more money. So to a large degree, the clubs’ negotiators did this, and the TV stations will do the same next Christmas and New Year, when we will have the same situation, and the same complaints.
The only solution would be for the Premier League to have its own satellite TV channel, and to do the whole processing itself – while being quite open with the clubs about what it is up to. I am told a channel on Astra and Eutelsat can be had for about £340,000 a year which is peanuts. After that all you need is the ground based studio, a bunch of moppets as commentators and some camera crews.
Arsène Wenger said, “Honestly I don’t really know if the Premier League masters the fixtures. In 20 years it is the most uneven Christmas period I’ve seen. The difference in rest period is unbelievable in terms of all the teams. It’s more we have sold the rights to TV for a lot of money so we have to accept TV chooses the games. But some teams have more luck than others.”
What we do know is that West Brom and Burnley are the only two clubs to play all three games exactly as planned, at 15:00 GMT, kicking off on Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and 2 January.
What is interesting is that amidst the chorus of complaints no one seems to know who actually handles the fixtures, and even more interestingly, the Premier League is not saying. But the BBC tracked the number of hours taken from the start of a team’s first game to the end of their third game. Considering all three games, Chelsea come out on top, and Arsenal don’t look too badly done by.
|Club||Minutes from start of 1st to end of 3rd game|
|2||Watford, Crystal Palace||201.5|
|4||Arsenal, Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic||198.75|
|6||West Ham at the Athletics Stadium||172.5|
|8||Burnley, Everton, Sunderland, Tiny Totts, West Bromwich China||170|
|9||Hull, Manchester Blues||167.75|
|10||Leicester shirtpull, Middlesbrough||167.5|
Mind you it is not all the TV schedulers’ fault. Southampton got three games in six days and only one was televised.
So what of the game, rather than its timing. Mr Wenger said on that, “We go to a difficult place, Bournemouth. The good news is Jack Wilshere will not play but there are still enough good players to give any team problems.
“What’s happening in this league is all the big teams win against the smaller teams.” And loathe as I am to contradict the master, that either means Liverpool! is a little team (an interesting thought) or Bournemouth is a big team (less likely). But I interrupted. He continued…
“Since November it is like that. The only moment where teams drop points is when they play against each other but that can change.
“Chelsea wins every single game, they are comfortable in front. We have to hang on and try to win and hope results turn in our favour. We had an exceptional run and in four games we lose two games. I hope it’s out of our system. But every game is so difficult.”
Mr Wenger has said he will make a late decision about Mesut Özil, adding, “Mesut is a bit better, he is in bed. Will he be ready for selection? We will have to wait a bit more.”
What we can observe is that none of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin and Shkodran Mustafi started against Palace and so each could start this game. Certainly with Elneny now meeting up with his Egyptian teammates, we won’t see him for a few weeks.
It is possible that either or both of Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs could be available. Up front Giroud could continue, having scored eight goals in the last six starts. But Mr Wenger is known to like causing surprises to the opposition so if they are expecting Giroud up front, it could suddenly change and Alexis could return there. But it also depends how Mr Wenger assesses the opposition.
Next up, the injuries, the style of play and the predicted line up and other such meanderings.
New from the Arsenal History Society – all the player histories indexed. The AHS player histories tend to be more detailed than those on the official Arsenal site – especially for players from the early part of Arsenal’s history. Now we are undertaking the huge task of indexing the main articles. Players with surnames A to D have been linked to their main articles and we are continuing the task day by day.