Arsenal were poor against Birmingham City FC on 12 January, we can’t get away from that, but what made matters much worse was the appearance once again of the blight that is sweeping the game – time wasting when the ball is out of play.
Birmingham were not as bad as other teams – over the past couple of years Bolton Wanderers FC have been the masters of the art – but the fact is that the problem has spread through most of the clubs in the top division.
Of course time-wasting has been there for years – even Thierry Henry was known to take the ball over to the corner flag if there was a minute or so to go – but what Bolton have done (and others copied) is developed a model in which time wasting has reached new heights.
First, they were quite prepared to waste time from any moment in the game – even in the first half – if they got ahead. And if they were playing for a draw they would certainly do it all the way through the second half.
Second, they developed a rotational model – just as Blackburn Rovers FC did with their notorious rotational fouling system (from which mercifully they have now pulled back). The keeper is the obvious person to do the time-wasting – but then once the keeper gets warned by the ref the baton is taken up by other players who take it in turns.
At this point we see the tactics – taking more and more time to take a throw-in, taking several minutes to execute a substitution, going down when injured, then getting up, then going down, walking off incredibly slowly… We’ve seen it with Fulham, with Aston Villa, it just goes on and on.
The depth of the cynicism within Birmingham City in the match at the Emirates Stadium could be seen late in the second half when one player went down injured, got up, and the whole of the support staff raced out into the technical area and waved at him to go down again, just to take up time. He wasn’t injured, but that is what they wanted to him to pretend to be.
Wasting time as Henry did it – with the ball in play – is not much fun, but at least the ball is in play. Mr Wenger won’t mind. Wasting time with the ball out of play is atrocious, but it will stay there as long as the FA, the Premier League and the refs have no desire to do anything about it. And that is how things are just now. Until they act, it will get worse, and worse, and worse.
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