Sep 30, 2008

Mais oui, Arsene, the away goal rule sucks. But here's why we need it:

Arsene Wenger today made his case for abolishing UEFA's away goal rule that serves as the primary tie-breaker in European competition. The illustrious coach of Arsenal FC told the Guardian he felt "the weight of the away goal is too heavy now tactically - it was created 42 years ago at a stage when the teams that went abroad just defended. But now when you play in your own stadium without conceding you have a good chance to go through. So it has reversed the situation."

Actually, we don't quite follow Wenger's logic here; after all, a team needs to win its home leg, not just play for a 0-0 tie--so it's more than simply not conceding goals at home. Sure, home sides may sit back and defend a 1-0 lead once they have established it. And teams that have the lead coming into the home leg will obviously look to dig in their defenses. But we would think the initial impetus is to attack, at least until the first goal is scored.

Nevertheless, Wenger is right about the away goal being outdated. Not only that, it never really made much sense in the first place. What is so incredibly vital about scoring a goal in a foreign stadium that makes it the defacto tie-breaker? Not only that, but the way the rule is set up now away goals can count as much as double; if a team wins its home leg 2-1 it's not like it has a one goal lead. The game is effectively tied, because once the opposing team scores on the return leg it doesn't only erase the one goal deficit, it goes ahead!

Still, we think the away goal rule serves an important purpose: to significantly reduce the chances that a penalty shoot-out will decide the affair. Take away the rule and you'll suddenly see a massive spike in the amount of penalty shoot-outs. And penalty shoot-outs suck for a whole host of different reasons (too many to list here. Suffice it to say if you like penalty shoot-outs you're either a fan of the Italian national team or an idiot or both). If Monsieur Wenger thinks UEFA competitions are defensive now, let him see what they'd be like without the away goal rule! We'd see every single inferior team on the planet bunkering down and playing for penalties. It's bad enough when that happens during a World Cup or Euro quarter- or semi-final, which are one game. These UEFA matches are two! That's 210 minutes of booo-ring soccer!

So yes, away goals carry too much weight now. But absent a better rule for deciding ties (which has apparently remained elusive ever since medieval townfolk first started kicking around animal intestines) abolishing the rule would be a big mistake. Wenger told the Guardian he presented these views to UEFA and that there was "warm reception" to his idea. Here's hoping it was hot air.


  1. I like the away-goals rule. Any home team that is just trying to defend and protect away-goals being scored against them won't be playing very attractive football. They might draw or even win but the fans want to be entertained. Play like Arsenal - they lose to Hull but they do it in style.


  2. It is a great rule. The games are a lot more enjoyable.