Should Arsenal Benfica Be Changed to One Leg? By Dan Smith
As much as all governing bodies insist, the reason football is carrying on during this pandemic has nothing to do with escapism or comfort to the average man or woman in the street. The simple truth is it’s all about money.
In February players will again be asked to fly all around Europe to play in the Champions League and Europa League.
There was a way for both tournaments to happen while reducing the risk of travel. Like the end of last season the two competitions could be arranged for a later date, with one country hosting a straight knock out cup.
Restructuring would upset sponsors and TV companies and that’s UEFA’s priority, more than people’s welfare apparently.
The away goal rule was first introduced in 1966. The hope was it would encourage the away side to be more positive, to have a reason to try and attack.
During the first lockdown when the Premiership were arranging ‘Project Restart‘, there were some clubs who were against the proposal of playing at neutral grounds clearly feeling that home advantage still existed even if stadiums were empty. Results suggest that’s not the case with teams, including Arsenal, losing at the Emirates with more regularity than usual.
So the away goals rules seems pointless in 2021. Should visitors have a goal count double for the simple task of scoring in front of no one? Those in charge could have taken away that rule just for now, but again viewers’ entertainment isn’t a priority.
Last year’s knockout stages being crammed into one city and one week, while not ideal for everyone was at least fair, every team was in the same position.
Once teams are playing under different regulations to each other the integrity of that competition is called into question.
We have already seen FA Cup rounds be decided on which squad had Covid or not, with the repercussions not consistent. Some ties were postponed, some clubs were forced to play their academy players, others were simply kicked out for not fulfilling their fixtures.
The FA, already with sponsors money safely in the bank, just left it to the clubs to sort out themselves. UEFA are equally showing zero leadership but with the whole world watching.
Arsenal and Benfica find themselves in an uneven playing field compared to the 30 other teams in the Europa League.
Boris Johnson when apologizing to the UK for the number of Covid related deaths, insisted that Portugal was on the ‘red list’, meaning anyone would have to self-isolate on their return for 10 days. The PM is no longer in a position where he can give exceptions just because you play sport.
As things stand, it’s not a case of if Arsenal and Benfica want to play in Lisbon or London, they simply can’t. Not without changing the dates. With both clubs current schedules it’s impossible.
Government rules mean once the Gunners return from their 18th Feb trip to the Estadio da Luiz, they will be met at an English airport and escorted to a hotel where they will be isolated for 10 days, meaning they couldn’t play in that weekend’s League game or the 2nd leg.
The Portuguese side would then have to be in Britain 10 days before they can play in North London. So the two legs happening inside 7 days can’t happen unless there is a change of location.
This is where suddenly some teams are being disadvantaged.
It wouldn’t be fair for the first leg to be on neutral territory, but the 2nd Benfica have to go through the hassle of 10 days in a London hotel (and vice versa of course). The compromise is neither side have home advantage, but then what’s the point of an away goal rule?
Let’s say if both sides agreed to play twice in Greece (picking a name out of a hat) and the aggregate score finished 1-1, how is it correct that a side is knocked out because they conceded an away goal which wasn’t an away goal?
The solution (and I think for all ties) should be straight knockout in a random city. I wouldn’t be shocked if both clubs agreed to that, cancelling domestic fixtures to go into quarantine will be their last resort.
If Arsenal and Benfica were adamant they wanted to play a one-off game, there are rules which the European Governing body could consider if they feel that’s the last resort.
It amazes me that during a worldwide pandemic that those who run the whole sport leave it to the clubs to sort out. Arsenal and Benfica have essentially been told to make their own arrangements with warnings they must compensate the visitors if they don’t play where scheduled and even a threat of disqualification if requirements can’t be fulfilled.
Remember Arsenal and Benfica have done nothing wrong, it’s not their fault.
Like the rest of the world football has to follow the rules and accept Benfica vs Arsenal in the Capital of Portugal and London in the space of a week is simply not practical.
What Do You Think Gooners? Should Benfica vs Arsenal still be 2 Legs or a straight knockout in a neutral country?
Be Kind In The Comment s