Arsene Wenger’s comments about scrapping the away goal rule in the aftermath of his sides Champions League exit, has created some debate in the footballing circle this week. Its an all too common occurrence in modern football to see a team knocked out of European Competition on the away goal ruling, its certainly something that English clubs seem to frequently fall foul of.
In this round of fixtures, both Arsenal and Chelsea have been knocked out of Europe after drawing 3-3 on aggregate in their respective matches. As fan, I’ve also witness Man United get knocked out to heart breaking away goals down through the years.
It’s a rule that has been in place for decades, and everyone is fully aware of the rule before the game kicks off, but is it a fair way to decide a winner? Lets take a quick look at the two English teams knocked out over the last couple of weeks.
Chelsea drew 3-3 on aggregate. Three times they took the lead in this tie over the course of the two legs, and they were never in a losing position, yet, they were the ones knocked out. PSG were never once in front over the course of the two legs, but they are the ones who went through.
Arsenal managed to score in both legs of their tie, and even stopped the home side from scoring their home leg. For the majority of their two-legged encounter, they were the team that took the initiative more often than not, but because of the location of some of the goals, they found themselves eliminated.
The idea behind the away rule in the first place, was to bring an end to multiple replays when a two-legged tie would finish level. The thought was to try encourage the away team to play more adventurous football and combat negative tactics of teams trying to “spoil” the first leg and try and take advantage when they got them back to their own patch for the return leg.
But in modern times, the ruling has nearly come full circle on itself and is almost back to encouraging more negative football. A lot of first legs are now nervous, cagey affairs, where the away team will look to defend deep and hope to nick something on the counter attack; while the home team is often very conscious about over committing in attack for fear of conceding a near fatal away goal.
Unfortunately, football games can end in draws, and therefore in knockout competition, a tie break is going to be needed. So what could the alternatives to the current system be?
Golden Goal? I highly doubt we will see a reintroduction of this rule. For those of you too young to remember, the first team to score in Extra Time scored a Golden Goal and the game stopped right there. A “next goal wins” idea, if you will. It was thought that this would encourage teams who didn’t want to leave their fate up to penalties to endeavor to get the all important, instant winner. But again, an idea that was meant to encourage adventurous play ended up having the opposite affect. Teams became very cautious in extra time and the focus was on not conceding, rather than trying to score, because conceding a goal was instant defeat. The rule was abolished in 2004 and looks likely to stay that way.
The League Cup in England implements the away goal rule, but they have a twist to it. The away goals will only count after the 30 minute extra time period has been played. So in the case of Arsenal on Tuesday night, Aaron Ramsey’s goal would have been enough to buy them another 30 minutes to try and find a winner. If after extra time, the score was still 3-3, then the away goals would have kicked in and Monaco would have won, without the need for penalties.
This is an idea I like, it seems fair(er) to grant an extra 30 minutes to let the teams try and sort it out for themselves rather than what can be a pretty harsh tie break otherwise.
The is an argument that extra time in an game where away goals have bearing, can lead to an unfair advantage. The away team gets two hours to try and find the all-important away goal, while the other team only got 90 minutes. Then the flip side to that is one team gets an extra half an hour with home advantage to press on with.
Unfortunately there is a need for some kind of tie-breaker in football matches, and all can be heartbreaking, and seem unfair when your team is on the losing end. Like everything else, there are pros and cons to any solution. The traditional penalty shootout has been around forever, and the powers that be in football clearly want another solution – evidenced by their constant endeavors to find a new tie-breaker.