Forget home advantage, the world of football is changing.

By Tony Attwood

Football matches are a matter of tactics, psychology and ability.  In the novel by Robert Rankin, “Knees up mother earth” Brentford Utd beat Arsenal in the FA Cup by playing a bunch of circus performers instead of trained footballers in their team.  That’s psychology – although not of this world.

In effect different managers use tactics, psychology and ability in different ways in order to win games.  Mourinho famously puts out teams without a centre forward.  That’s both psychology and tactics.  It draws the opposition forwards.

But today is the anniversary of one of Arsenal’s big victories over Tottenham – a 5-1 victory at White Hart Lane.   There is some background to that game here and it got me thinking about away tactics and away victories.

Leaving that game and a few others at WHL, entering a match everyone knows that the home team have an advantage.  But why?  Most players in the Premier League will have played too many games, surely, to be psyched out by simply being a bit far from home.  So what is it?

Walter’s work over the last few yeas has shown us clearly that many refs have a home bias in terms of given more wrong decisions in terms of the home team than the away team.  This should not be the case, of course, but it is.

And, it turns out, overall the case of the “home banker” is declining.

Most commentators in the media considered that there was only one home win in the Premier League on the opening weekend as just a fluke – one of those funny issues to be covered in the “you can prove anything with statistics” column.  But it wasn’t quite as simple as that.

For in 2013/14, 32 per cent of games were won by the away side.  That is the highest in Premier League history.  And the number of away goals is going up as well.

Now Arsenal have known all about bus parking, time wasting, and the psychology of rotational fouling by visiting teams for many years.   Indeed in January 2008, when I first started writing Untold Arsenal this was the prime debating point.

Rotational fouling ought to be a punishable offence in itself – but it still isn’t, although we now see less of it.  Time wasting is an offence, but as we saw at the weekend, with the collusion of the press and live TV, it is never mentioned, is never shown and is never punished.

But it is possible for away teams to win in other ways and in the last three seasons, away teams have been working towards that.  They have certainly scored more goals per game than ever before.  And as you will remember Arsenal went unbeaten away all season (2002/3) before they went unbeaten away and at home all season (2003/4).  We didn’t build on our home form – we built on our away form.

Given that in 2003/4 we also became also the first team to score in every match through the season, it is clear to see that our victories in that era were based on the attacking system, with a particular emphasis on how we played away from home.

So how have other clubs followed Arsenal in getting their away form together?

One reason that is put forward is that over the years stadia have become more gentrified and so are quieter.  Home fans still expect a home win – they believe in the old statistics not the new stats.  So as the away team step up, the home fans  gradually get annoyed with their team, which makes matters worse.  We’re fortunate at Arsenal that so few of the AAA actually attend matches.

But it is also possible that by highlighting the referee bias in favour of home sides we have also been doing something about it.  Certainly the way that we now preview referees has coincided with a decline in referees following their accepted pattern in the past.  That isn’t to say that Untold is forcing a change on refs – no.  But rather by taking on PGMOL when no one else will, we have thrust a little chink of light in an otherwise very dark room.

Over all the seasons from 1992 up to and including last season Arsenal scored 854 at home and 633 away.  Last season we scored 36 at home and 32 away – a much narrower gap.  Before that it was 47 home and 25 away – the sought of difference we expected in the old days.  But that was an exception.  In 2011/12 it was 39 home against 35 away.

But in 2008/9 we scored 37 away and 31 goals at home.  Just this snap shot of figures shows us how football is changing.  In the early years of the Premier League no one would have expected a team to score away more than at home, but the tactics changed in response to the situation.

The psychology of the home win is still there among the journalists of course, and many people who just watch home games, but the reality is changing as teams are built on a notion of how to defeat the bus parking by the less able away teams, and the removal of the belief in home bankers.

It is also possible to beat the opposition by springing a surprise.   Arsene Wenger did this with Chambers.  It appears that he paid the asking price, and has thrown the young man straight into a position that he would not consider his own.   Indeed Mr Wenger has said he decided to sign him from the first moment he saw him play.

So why did he get him and why did Southampton release him?  Because Mr Wenger knew that the system of football in the Premier League was changing, and the old emphases are moving.  Chambers is part of that transformation.

Putting in different types of players is a way of breaking down the old home advantage, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we are seeing a different Arsenal away from home this year, especially with Theo back and with him playing opposite Alexis.

But there is also the crowd.  If the AAA and their journalist allies do manage to get on Giroud’s back and convince others to listen to their rhetoric rather than notice the 40 goals that Giroud has scored, then it could well be that he will become less able to perform to his ability at home, but will be freed up from the psychological pressure of the AAA away from home.

That’s not how it should be, but he will not be the first player to find greater release away from home, because of maniac home supporters.

We’ll be having a look at how the Everton match shapes up in relation to this decline in home advantage, in the next few posts.

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14 Replies to “Forget home advantage, the world of football is changing.”

  1. Some of these things obviously play a part, but to me home advantage is value added by:
    A) Home supporters
    B) Few hostile away supporters
    C) Familiarity with environment
    D) Not having to travel

    I see Giroud’s back in the frame as if he already doesn’t have enough pressure.

  2. One of the most disgusting phrases in the world of professional football, is now in common usage…..
    “Rotational fouling”.

  3. I get that some people like to be negative, so they don’t get their hopes up too high and be disappointed. But I just fail to understand why they feel they need to hound players for simply not being their ideal superstar player.

  4. This is a great article.

    The kind of proper footy chat that is very hard to find on the 24/7 football news broadcasters.
    Yet many football fans will have discussed these changes over recent years with friends’s interesting because there is an old study from the US on Home advantage, can’t remembers the reference, and it’s also clear that there has been a subtle change.

    Though watching that unacceptable pitch on Tuesday, if Chambo’s late shot had been a few millimetres to one side Arsenal would have deserved the Away goal advantage that would have essentially killed the tie.

  5. “It was just banter”

    Looking forward to reading Untold’s thoughts on this self-defeating statement from the LMA, the implications etc.

    Sol Campbell’s recent comments, the complaints against Hodgson etc.
    no need to mention the Gazprom player’s successful captaincy.

    It makes you think.

    Thank the football gods for the Arsenal.
    By far, the greatest team the world has ever seen.

  6. The lawyer that charged the LMA an arm and a leg for that statement deserves a comedy award.

    Preferably one handed out by “a young Lenny Henry”.
    Or Oxlade-Chamberlain. Or Gibbs. I get them all confused for some reason.

  7. @oldgroover
    Re Giroud, I see he is, at least according to the ever reliable Metro and Daily Mail, being offered to PSG as the sacrificial lamb in a player plus cash deal for Cavani. Comes from French media sources apparently.

  8. I would have thought we would have scored more away as teams can’t really park the bus in front of their own fans.

  9. Mick
    Yes, I saw that. It’s going to do a lot for his self esteem isn’t it.
    Rather have them both to tell the truth.

  10. At the end of this season and in seasons to come, we will look back at how Arsenal changed football again.

    AW’s ways are not always transparent, but just imagine the last nine years were not hampered by debts, what would AW have achieved?

    Now let’s hope he can stay with us another 9 years.

  11. Bus? Wenger has the best defense strategy. It’s called keeping the ball. Passing the ball usually allows the team in possession to attack. However, the officials allow foul tackles and Arsenals opponents to ‘rob’ us from possession. That forces the passing to ‘bypass’ midfield so that opponents do not get the advantage of direct attack of our defenders. The long ball allows us to bring pace from Alexis or Giroud into the game.

    Everton is going to be an interesting match with our new players, because Wengers approach will make it so.

  12. To support your idea:

    Only two home wins in the first week of the new EPL season. Only Arsenal and ‘Pool won at home, out of 10 matches! I wonder of that’s some sort of record…

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