Without much fanfare the Premier League has introduced a regulation change which might prove to be very helpful to Arsenal in certain away games this season.
Whereas previously clubs had discretion about the size of their pitch (within quite broad parameters), now they all have to comply with the UEFA standard of 105m by 68m (which, in old money, equates to more or less 115 yards by 74 yds).
No big deal?
Well, it’s going to make a significant difference to some clubs who have been taking the “barely legal” approach to pitch size for some time.
Chief among the culprits have been the Mighty Orcs, otherwise known as Stoke City.
Until forced to enlarge their pitch this year, Stoke have been using the absolute minimum dimensions for their playing surface.
The old rule (Rule I. 21) said: “In League Matches the length of the pitch shall be not more than 110 metres nor less than 100 metres and its breadth not more than 75 metres nor less than 64 metres.”
Stoke opted for the minimum length (100m/109yds) and the minimum width (64m/70yds). If the laws allowed it, you suspect they would have shrunk their pitch to the size of a basketball court and swapped goals for hoops. Rory Delap to win the Golden Glove anyone?
Now you may be thinking that we’re only talking about a yard here or there, so what does it matter?
Well, what if I told you that Stoke’s approach means there are 800 fewer square yards to play on at their ground compared with a ground that follows the UEFA standard (which, by the way, is compulsory for both European cup competitions). For reference, the pitch at The Emirates complies with the UEFA standard.
EIGHT HUNDRED SQUARE YARDS!
The pitch area at the Emirates is 8,510 sq yds. At Stoke it’s 7,700.
Just imagine an area of turf 29 yards by 29 yards square. All that lovely green grass that our fine young players DON’T get to play on when we visit the Britannia.
Not that I really blame Stoke for doing this. If you are going to base your game on physicality, defensiveness and long throw-ins then why not exploit the rules to the maximum?
But – and not before time – the Premier League has decided to make sure that every team gets to play on a level playing field (pun intended). By insisting on larger pitches I suspect the EPL is also hoping to encourage more expansive, attacking play, which will help maintain the international appeal of our league.
As far as I can tell from some cursory internet research (if any of my facts are wrong, feel free to correct them in comments) the only other club in the EPL this year that previously had a minimum sized ground is West Ham.
However, several clubs were a good way below the new criteria. Both Liverpool and Everton had 8,140 sq yds of playing surface – 370 sq yds below what is now acceptable. Of course that could be because the locals pinched a few hundred yards of turf to sell off the back of a truck.
Interestingly, the Spuds – until recently – had a pitch only marginally bigger than Stoke’s, with an area of 8,030 sq yds. Given the way they try to play (with fast attacking wide men) it seems an odd approach. Maybe it’s just too much effort trying to get grass – or anything else wholesome – to grow in N17.
Fulham, QPR and Southampton have all also had to enlarge their playing surfaces as a result of the new rule (at least I assume they have – although there is a get-out for a club if “it is impossible for it to comply… due to the nature of construction of its ground”).
So what does this all mean for our trip to Mordor on Sunday?
One thing it doesn’t mean is that we’re sure to win. You only win tough games like this if your squad are fully committed and play close to the best of their ability.
But it takes a slight edge away from the home team (they have more ground to cover defensively, it will be harder for them to funnel everything into the crowded middle of the pitch and Towel Boy Delap will have to throw even further to reach the penalty spot). And it gives a slight edge to us: more room for our wide players to stretch the Orc defence and pull the home team out of shape; more room for our clever movement and passing to be effective.
The same should apply at the other grounds where the pitch has had to be enlarged this year.
For our boys, playing every game home and away on a pitch the same size can only be a good thing.
Last season Stoke punched (sometimes literally) above their weight in the EPL.
Their tiny pitch undoubtedly played a part (as did the consistent favourable bias they got from referees – check out the Untold Arsenal site if you don’t believe me).
This time round, with a full sized playing pitch and, hopefully, some extra scrutiny of the refereeing bias, I don’t expect them to be able to emulate their 14th place finish from last year and they could well be in for a relegation fight. Let’s hope we give them a shove in that direction on Sunday.