Juking the Stats
There was a lot of entertainment this week at the sight of FFP having knock on effects for Manchester City’s attendances at Champions League games. However fans of all clubs would be wise not to mock as this represents a wider issue.
As the club widely reported to have the most expensive tickets it has been obvious for a while that largely speaking our attendances have been down since the early days of the new stadium. The club has come in for much derision at quoting attendances as being near capacity when anyone could see swathes of empty seats.
Whilst administrators at the club may point to those seats having been sold, the fact remains that the demand for those seats has not actually been there. The club can quote whatever figure they like but as the release recently of police reports on actual numbers through the gates has shown, the truth will out. Premier League clubs have just reaped the rewards from their bumper television deal, it’s the most watched league in the world and the Premier League feels like it has the sporting world by the cojones. And here is why I urge caution: In the early 90s the Serie A was in the same situation, their clubs had mega rich subsidisers like the Agnelli family – owners of Fiat – at Juve and of course one Silvio Burlusconi at Milan.
I saw a quote a couple of years ago attributed to Burlusconi circa the early 90s – I unfortunately couldn’t find it for this – when he recognised that it was essential that for television purposes Italian football kept its stadia full to create a sense of atmosphere and tension. Through a combination of hooliganism, corruption, catenaccio, decrepit stadia with chasmic distances to the playing surface – which only diluted the atmosphere further – Italian attendances dwindled as did their global share of the television market. Whilst international audiences looked to the swashbuckling Premier ?League with its newer looking stadia and fans on top of the action creating a greater sense of atmosphere.
The Bundesliga has received a lot of praise in the last five years or so for the standard of the football, 50 + 1 ownership rule which prevents any one person or company owning more than a 49% share in the club and the fact that it produces so many German talents. One of the things English fans seem to admire most aside from 50 + 1 is the effort to make match day tickets affordable, something that has seen attendances grow to the point where a ticket in Dortmund’s south stand is one of the most desirable in world football.
The Bundesliga is currently desperately chasing down the Premier League in terms of global viewing figures, yes at the moment they’re a fair way behind and yes at the moment English attendances are as high as they’ve been since the sixties but as the malaise of Serie A has shown things can change quicker than you realise.
I hope senior people at Premier League clubs – and here’s something I never thought I’d say – are of the same mind as Silvio Burlusconi and recognise how important it really is that they keep stadiums full if they want to continue cashing in on the television market.
I’m sure a lot of people noticed this statistic in a BBC article quoting Joey Barton as saying we lacked a spine:
“Arsenal have won just once – and lost 16 times – in their 20 away matches against sides who have finished in the top five in the past five campaigns”.
I was flabbergasted as I knew our away record to big sides was bad but I hadn’t realised quite how moribund it was. Really something has to change, there are no excuses for a record like that.
Round Pegs, Round Holes
On Sunday we started the Chelsea game in a 4-3-3 formation with Flamini in the holding role, Wilshere and Cazorla just in front, Özil and Alexis left and right advanced positions and Welbeck up front. It has been noted ad nauseam that when Özil plays anywhere except the number 10 position he looks either “uninterested” or “misused”, sometimes both.
When Özil plays at number 10 and has movement around him he looks devastating. To that end, of the formations we play, 4-2-3-1 is the one which suits him best. I can understand Wenger starting with 4-3-3 against Chelsea given our away record at the top sides last year. The aim was not to get swamped in the centre of the park and get a foothold in the game, hoping that we could then nick a goal. But it does present an issue which is what’s the plan with Özil.
We spent £40 million on him and so far opportunities in his preferred role have been intermittent. We started well against Chelsea on Sunday, we competed and we moved the ball from midfield to the final third very fluently. However when we got to the final third we hardly created any clear cut chances and didn’t manage a single shot on target. We have players at the club better suited to playing in wide positions than Özil, Oxlade-Chamberlain for one.
When you make a player your most expensive player of all time, it’s not unreasonable to expect that player will be a fulcrum for your side. It has been reported in the football gossip columns that we’re preparing to return with a January bid for Özil’s friend and compatriot, Sami Khedira, and if true – who knows? – he would be a perfect fit for our midfield given the obvious lack of presence.
There has however been another rumour that Bayern are sniffing around to try and sign Özil. If this is true and if we aren’t going to play him as a number 10 then we have a decision to make because there were whispers from Bayern at the beginning of the season that Javi Martinez – a truly world class holding mid – wasn’t happy that Philip Lahm was being preferred for big games in the holding role.
It’s not inconceivable that we could lose Özil, gain Martinez (and some cash) and come out of it as a stronger team. Personally, I hope we bite the bullet by signing Khedira and giving Özil an extended run as a number 10 to do what he does best which is create unencumbered by defensive duties.