It sounds so simple but the reality is more difficult than a bland statement from the Arsenal manager. At his pre-match press conference, Arsène announced that he had contacted Uefa to end the Away Goals rule. Wenger observed,
Sometimes I think there is a counter-effect as teams play at home not to concede goals. At home the first thing managers say is let’s not concede goals.
He is on the right line but sadly, it looked from his comments as if he was trying to make more of a virtue at having won 2 – 0 in Munich than Bayern’s 3 – 1 win in the first leg. Arsène’s instinct is surely to be more inclined toward rewarding any team whose adventure shows three goals in an away match? Perhaps it was the surprise at not conceding in a big match which provoked the pride in his reaction, albeit damning his own side in the process,
It was as difficult, if not more so, to win 2-0 at Bayern without conceding a goal as it was for them to score once here.
Uefa has tried a number of solutions, trying to find the most equitable. Tossing the coin put more to luck than any judgement whilst replays are impractical in a fixture list which is already deemed to be overcrowded. That would be feasible if the tournaments were purely knock-out and may generate more revenue in the longer run if sufficient in number but with the clubs and authorities enamoured with the sponsors euro, such a radical overhaul of any of the tournaments is unlikely.
Personally, I think it should not kick in until after extra time as opposed to at the final whistle of the second leg. That does seem an anomaly, level scores not settled without a further thirty minutes to produce a clear advantage to one team. If Arsène believes that going straight to penalties is likely to release any mental or tactical brakes, I think he is severely underestimating his peers in the coaching fraternity. There are any number who have played for such an outcome along their managerial careers. Indeed, Wenger has done so, most obviously in Rome when trailing by a single goal in the second leg, his charges played not to concede again by forsaking attacking thoughts and winning on penalties.
It is not necessarily the rule which needs to change but steps should be taken to remove – or at least lessen – the fear of losing. With the introduction of clearly defined transfer windows, perhaps the greatest tool for fixing a situation has been curtailed. We can see more of the coaching craft evident in this scenario but if a manager can lose his job at any time, he ought to have the opportunity to solve any problems as he sees fit. If players cannot move freely throughout the season, surely the same windows must exist for managers? Arguably, with the erratic behaviour of the new breed of owners, currently on show in all its resplendent glory at Cardiff City, there is a necessity, a duty on the ruling bodies to introduce a window for managerial change also?
Perhaps the greatest exponent of negative tactics – or astute tactics, depending on your viewpoint – provides the opposition for Arsenal tomorrow night. I am not enamoured with Mourinho’s style of play but tactically, he is astute in certain situations and I think his mentality toward winning lends itself naturally in stifling his opponent. It is a short-term view on winning as he has found out, not just at Chelsea but elsewhere. There comes a point when you have to win in style. I am not sure that he is capable of producing such a team on a sustained basis as his tenure at Real proved.
He does know how to obtain results against Arsenal though. That is an underlying reason for Wenger not wanting to get involved in any exchanges with his opposite number. Such words would be cannon-fodder for the media in the event of an Arsenal defeat, eager to portray this as the Portugeezer once more ‘besting’ his more urbane rival. Indeed, Mourinho has been quite pleasant in the build-up to this fixture possibly more distracted by his own issues than worrying about an opponent he has already beaten this season. The latest charm offensive concerned Mesut Özil’s arrival and the positive impact he will bring to Arsenal. We have seen that already but tomorrow may be the last for a few games with Arsène offering the view that the German will be rested soon,
In Germany and most of Europe they have Christmas off and at some stage I will have to give him a break. But Monday night? No.
It is a valid point that the German needs a rest, he has played constantly since arriving at The Emirates. On the basis that he is not used to playing so much football or more to the point, he is used to having Christmas off? English football has always worked the players like dogs but with the squad system, the manager should be able to rotate without disrupting the side too much, allowing himself the time to accommodate players who are in need of respite from the schedule. Jack Wilshere’s suspension will have clouded that issue this week but would Wenger find more benefit by giving the players a proper rest not just relegating them to the bench? The use of statistics over tiredness has been contentious at the club with the manager admitting he played Wilshere before his injury, when the advice was to rest the player. Lessons have surely been learned from that? We shall see.