Play Fair 3: Increasing Playing Time

Part three of the IFAB rule change proposals considers how to increase Playing Time.

This is the third of my articles looking at the Play Fair document being proposed by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), and looks at their ideas for increasing playing time in a game of football. My initial piece was “Play Fair? – An introduction to the document looking to make changes to game of football”, and I followed this up with their proposals for “Improving player behaviour and increasing respect.”

The concept of increasing playing time is one of my hobby horses that I wrote about in my introduction to the Play Fair document, having first written about it in 2015. The document begins this section with the comment that many people are very frustrated that a typical 90 minute game of football has fewer than 60 minutes of effective or actual playing time, i.e. when the ball is in play. Their key strategy which could be implemented without any law changes is a stricter calculation of additional time. They state that referees should be required to be much stricter in calculating additional time, by stopping their watch as follows:

  • From the time a penalty kick is awarded until the kick has been taken
  • From when a goal is scored until the kick- off is taken
  • From the time play stops for an injury until play restarts
  • From the time a card is shown until play restarts
  • From a substitution signal until the game restarts
  • From the award of a free kick until the kick is taken – this is especially important when pacing out is carried out.

You would be amazed how much time this would add on compared to what happens now. If you don’t believe me then use the stopwatch on your watch / smartphone every time one of these situations arises in a game. At the moment we typically find that referees add on 1-2 minutes at the end of the first half, and usually somewhere between 3-5 minutes in the second half. This bears little relation to the actual time when no football is being played.

We all remember when Tony Pulis used to bring his Stoke City side to play at Upton Park, and apart from a number of other dubious time wasting tactics, they would try to force throw-ins in our half. Rory Delap had an excellent long throw, but he would take an interminable amount of time drying the ball, waving players into position etc. It could take up to a minute for each throw-in to be taken and incensed the crowd.

I would go further than the initial suggestions in the Play Fair document for adding on time and propose stopping time whenever the ball goes out of play, especially when kicked into the stands, or when the ball goes behind the goal. I believe that the clock should only be restarted at the point a corner, or goal kick, or throw-in is actually taken.

In their points for discussion the document brings up the subject of stadium clocks, and they want to link this to the referees watch. Again, I would suggest going further and take timekeeping totally out of the hands of the referee when there is a clock in the stadium. The officials have enough to think about without worrying about timekeeping. How simple would it be for a clock controller in the stand to stop and start the clock as necessary and only have the clock running when the ball is in actual play? To me this is so easy that I cannot comprehend why it doesn’t get introduced at once. It would totally eliminate the concept of timewasting. It would be necessary to consider how long each half should last, and suggest 30 minutes in each half of actual playing time. You could even have 4 periods of 15 minutes actual playing time, with a 15 minute interval at the end of the second period. This would lead to more playing time than we see at the moment, and time wasting would become a redundant exercise with no benefit.

They do make some other suggestions for increasing playing time, but to me they would have minimal impact, especially if the actual playing time guided by the stadium clock is introduced. These suggestions include, referees to apply the 6 seconds rule for goalkeepers strictly, self-passing at a free kick, corner kick or goal kick, allowing a moving ball at a goal kick, insisting a goal kick is taken at the side where the ball goes out, and substitutions taking place, or players leaving the field when injured at the nearest touchline. All of these would speed up the game to some extent, but the key one regarding the stadium clock is the most important to my mind.

The reasoning behind the “self-passing” proposal is a sound one in the case of free kicks, as it would allow the fouled player to effectively play the ball to himself. The game already allows quick free kicks, but would it be even better, and perhaps encourage speedier attacking play, if the player who has been fouled could (if he wanted to) stop the ball and then immediately continue their dribble or attacking move, thus speeding up the game? Perhaps this could be trialled?

I’m uncertain as to how West Ham would benefit from this change unless we took a different approach to free kicks. On many occasions we already take them very quickly, but without a great deal of thought. How many times last season did we have a free kick in the opponent’s half, only for us to take it straight away, frequently sideways and backwards, with the ball ending up with our keeper? The advantage of having a free kick is lost when we do this.

Play Fair Part 2: Player Behaviour and Respect

In Part 2 of the series the IFAB Play Fair Document proposals to ‘Improving player behaviour and increasing respect.’

In my previous article I introduced the Play Fair document being proposed by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). Today I will look at the first of the three crucial areas where they believe potential changes could be made to improve the game, that of improving player behaviour and increasing respect.

Over the years there have been many attempts to try to get players to improve their behaviour. Of course the main sanction is the issue of yellow and red cards, but how much effect does this have? In many instances the correct issue of both types of card is a subjective one and provokes much controversy.

Some of the ways in which IFAB believe that behaviour of players and team officials can be improved make some sense, whilst I don’t believe that others will have any real impact at all. The changes that could be implemented immediately without a change in the Law are fairly obvious ones but have no real clout:

  1. The captain must become the main point of communication with the referee.
  2. The captain must be the only player allowed to approach the referee when there is controversy.
  3. The captain must help the referee to calm flashpoint situations.

These are all sensible enough, but can you see it realistically happening unless there are meaningful sanctions in place when they don’t?  Some captains in recent years, and we all know who they are, would be less equipped to help the referee to calm down their players in flashpoint situations.

We all know what happens in reality. Players don’t like a decision, either because the officials have got it wrong, or because they feel that if they make a significant protest when they are in the wrong the referee will be sufficiently intimidated not to give decisions against the team in the future. Some teams in recent years have turned mobbing the referee into an art form, and unfortunately with weak referees it works. Is it a coincidence that teams noted for this type of protest appear to have more than their fair share of contentious decisions go in their favour?

The mobbing or surrounding of match officials is a problem that has existed for as long as I can remember but has, perhaps, escalated in recent times. For me the reason is clear. The officials do nothing about it. How many times do you see players around the referee or one of his assistants, and the referee keeps trying to wave them away? Do they go away? No. And what are the sanctions? None.

IFAB believe that the following sanctions could be tested out to solve the problem.

  1. “Referees should deal more strongly with players who mob the referee or linesman by the use of yellow cards.” Personally, I thought that they already had this power but are too weak to use it in the majority of cases. And an increase in yellow cards would lead to an increase in red cards, which then leads to more games without the full complement of players on the pitch. I hate to see this. I don’t understand the cheering when a player gets sent off. It leads to a changed, and usually, duller game, where the team with fewer players brings everyone back behind the ball, thus ruining the entertainment.
  2. “Only the captain can approach the referee to discuss a controversial decision.” They call this a sanction! It is not and will be totally ignored without anything meaningful happening.
  3. “Fines or points deduction for a team guilty of mobbing.” Now they are beginning to get somewhere, although fines are a total waste of time with the money around at the top level of the game. The only meaningful sanction that I can see working is that of points deduction. We now have panels that review all kinds of incidents retrospectively, and if a team surrounds the referee in a game then, in my opinion, something like two points (perhaps even three) should be deducted from their total if found guilty of this offence. This may seem harsh, but if they seriously want to put an end to it then this is what they must do. Managers will soon drum it into their players that the consequences of this kind of action would be harmful to the team and I’m sure it would soon cease.

I have an alternative suggestion, too. In addition to the potential retrospective action of points deductions, a penalty would be awarded against the team who are mobbing. And if they continue with their protests then the penalty is taken without a goalkeeper allowed in the goal. And if the protests continue a second penalty is awarded and so on until the protests stop. Clubs will soon understand the consequences of surrounding a referee and this type of protest will be consigned to history. Unless there are meaningful sanctions then nothing will change.

IFABs other suggestions for improving player behaviour and increasing respect will, I believe have little impact. They want to test red and yellow cards for coaches and team officials, and discuss a pre-match handshake between the referee and two coaches in the technical area, and a plan to reduce the number of substitutes a team can use if a substitute is sent off. The last one baffles me. What is the point of that? There are so many things they could look at I think this is just tinkering at the edges. Perhaps the game can learn something from rugby where officials are respected, and players tend to refer to the referee as “sir”? Can you see this happening in football? Unless the sanctions for mobbing that I refer to are strong enough then I feel that all of their proposals in part 1 of the Play Fair document will have little impact upon improving player behaviour and increasing respect.

Play Fair: Taking A Hammer To The Rules of The Game

An introduction to the document produced by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) looking to make changes to game of football.

There are conflicting schools of thought when it comes to attempting to improve the game of football. One side of the argument suggests that the game is fine as it is. Many believe that it is already the best and most popular game in the world and should be left alone. An alternative view is that you cannot stand still and it is prudent to make changes from time to time when there is an opportunity to make improvements for players and spectators alike.

I come down on the side of the latter view, and believe it is necessary to make alterations to the Laws to move with changes in the way that the game is played. If you look back to the late 1950s at video footage of games played at that time, you will realise that it has changed since then, and some amendments are necessary to keep the game up to date. As a regular columnist on the best West Ham fanzine ever, Over Land and Sea, as a co-author of this blog, and in my book Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford, I have frequently suggested changes that I believed would improve the game.

Within the book I made regular calls for the introduction of video technology, and devoted more than one chapter to this as it is something I am very much in favour of, as long as it is introduced in the right way and doesn’t alter the flow of the game. I am pleased to say that this is something that is now well on the way to becoming part and parcel of the professional game at the top level. In my prelude to our game against Stoke City in April 2015 I explained how I believed it should work, and future chapters on the topic reinforced my reasoning, especially resulting from some of the poor refereeing decisions that went against us in the 2015-16 season.

We had a batch of games in the second half of the season; away at Manchester United in the cup, away at Chelsea and Leicester in the league, and at home to Palace and Arsenal, all five of which resulted in draws. With a video assistant referee, all five would probably have resulted in victories, which would have seen progression into the semi-final of the cup, and eight more points in the league, which would have given us a Champions League place. Some will argue that these incorrect decisions balance themselves out over a season, but in reality they do not. I cannot recall a single instance where we benefitted from a contentious decision that later proved to be wrong in that season.

In my book I also unleashed another big bugbear of mine, the question of timekeeping, and timewasting. In a later article for Over Land and Sea, and also within the book after the home game had been played against West Brom on 29 November 2015, I went to town on this topic, and also re-watched the whole game on Sky with a stopwatch, and bemoaned the fact that less than 25 minutes of football was actually played in the second half of the game.

On 23 January 2016, after the game against Manchester City on that date, I wrote a chapter entitled Crime and Punishment. In this I pushed for changes in respect of the awarding of penalty kicks, questioned the need for having a penalty area, introduced my reservations about the offside law, questioned the concept of deliberate handball, and even made suggestions about increasing pitch sizes and goals by around 10% to allow for increases in sizes and performance of the human body since the original sizes were brought in 150 years ago.

The Laws of the game haven’t changed drastically in my lifetime (I’ve been following since 1958) but there have been some developments and amendments to the laws, and changes to rules of competitions. Some will say they have been beneficial, others will say that tinkering sometimes confuses the issue. So, for example, one of the most controversial laws in the game is the offside rule. This provokes a lot of debate, and was introduced initially to prevent “goal-hanging”. But quite how a player could be accused of “goal-hanging” when just inside his opponent’s half is beyond me. One change I would like to see is that a player can only be offside in the final eighteen yards of the pitch, but I reckon that change is a long way off. But it shouldn’t be.

The offside rule used to include “interfering with play” and there are a number of famous quotes surrounding this along the lines of “if he’s not interfering with play, or seeking to gain an advantage, then what is he doing on the pitch?” I haven’t quoted it exactly I’m sure, as there are contradicting views as to who first said it, but many attribute it to Bill Shankly. Nowadays they talk about first phase, second phase, active play etc. Anybody with any doubt as to the complexity of this rule should look up Law 11 in the Laws of the Game. It is a minefield, and almost impossible to explain.

Other changes in the last fifty years or so include the introduction of substitutes (many younger people will not remember a time when substitutes were not part of the game), the back pass rule, goalkeepers now being allowed to run with the ball without bouncing it (look up some old footage of the game to see this), the six second rule for keepers (but how often is this broken without being penalised?), three points for a win (it used to be two), and penalty shoot-outs. I am old enough to remember European ties ending all square and progression to the next round of the competition being decided by the toss of a coin. Many will believe that these changes have benefitted the game, although of course there are always detractors.

Recent innovations which are gaining momentum but still give rise to controversy in their initial trial stages include experimentation with video assistant referees, and changes to the sanctions for denial of obvious goalscoring opportunities. Now the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the independent guardians of the rules of the game, have issued a discussion document entitled “Play Fair”. I was looking forward to reading their proposals. The main aims are to develop the Laws to promote integrity and fairness, improve accessibility, and use technology to benefit the game. The three-pronged strategy within the document is a kind of five-year-plan to improve player behaviour and increase respect, increase playing time, and increase fairness and attractiveness. For each of these three areas they have three sub-divisions: “no law change needed – could be implemented immediately”, “ready for testing / experiments”, and “for discussion”

I will look at each part of the strategy in turn and consider its merits, and spread my writing over five articles on consecutive days, starting with this one. Many are sound ideas, (and even include areas that I have previously touched upon) that would improve the game in my opinion, but are they tackling all of the real issues that give rise to controversy? They don’t have any proposals for changes to the offside rule, the awarding of penalty kicks when the goal is not really being threatened, and they don’t really tackle the handball situation. Nevertheless some of their ideas are sound ones and I will describe them in some detail in following articles.

Will West Ham ever play in the Champions League?

Will we ever hear the “We Are Champion’s League” chant echo around the London Stadium?

Did you watch the Champions League final at the weekend between Real Madrid and Juventus? I thought it was an excellent game that was light years away from any of the domestic football we’ve seen this season. My first experience of seeing a European Cup Final was as a six year-old watching on black and white TV with my dad. I was enthralled seeing Real Madrid thrash Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in the 1960 final. In those days the European Cup (which became the UEFA Champions League in the 1990s) was only for the champions of countries. Nowadays of course it is a mega highly branded competition where up to four teams can qualify from leading countries.

So all we need to do is finish in the top four of the Premier League and we are in. Sounds easy? Of course not. I am afraid that the Premier League is now so predictable and driven by money that I can easily forecast which clubs will be in contention for a top four finish next season. It will be simply a case of perm any four from this season’s top six teams. The two Manchester clubs, Liverpool, and the London trio of Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea are so far ahead of the rest in terms of revenue, I can see them dominating our domestic league for years to come.

What about Leicester in the season before last you may ask? Yes, they were the exception to the rule, an absolute freakish surprise, but I honestly can’t see anything like that happening again. If you look at the Deloitte table of the richest clubs, then there are ten Premier League clubs that have appeared in the Top 20 in Europe in the last couple of years. In addition to our big six then the nearest challengers in revenue terms are Newcastle, Everton, Leicester and ourselves. But when you consider that Tottenham (the sixth richest club in England) are so far behind Liverpool in fifth, and then see how far behind Tottenham we are, then we are just not in a position to compete financially. Of course the move to the London Stadium will help us in financial terms, but all it will do is slow down the rate at which the top clubs are pulling away, which grows bigger every year.

Apart from Leicester you have to go back to season 2004-05 to find anyone outside of the big six who managed to break into the top four, when Everton crept into fourth place. Newcastle themselves did so a couple of times prior to that season, and Leeds also did around the turn of the century, but although money was a factor in those days, the differential between the top clubs and those below them wasn’t so great then. Now the differences are so huge, and the gap is getting wider, that I cannot see it happening again in the foreseeable future.

Our bullish owners are hopeful that we can compete to join this elite club, and indeed we gave it a good go in our final season at Upton Park when we finished seventh, and could perhaps have finished even higher. Almost twenty years ago we achieved our highest ever placing in the Premier League when we finished fifth in 1997-98, and a little over ten years before that in the days when the top flight was called Division One, the boys of 1986 came so close when we finished third. But it was a different world then as teams such as Southampton, Forest, Watford, Ipswich, and Norwich all managed top four finishes in the 1980s.

In many ways the Premier League is more competitive than most with six teams regularly contesting to finish at the top. In the other top leagues such as Germany, France, Spain and Italy, there are perhaps two or three teams at the most who are likely to finish as champions. This is not too surprising as our top six clubs make up half of the top dozen richest clubs in the world. But this only means that we will find it harder to earn a place in the Champions League.

To break into the elite we would need to sign some top players. But the very best players only want to play in clubs competing in the Champions League, so even if we were prepared to pay top dollar for the best, I am afraid that they wouldn’t join us anyway. I cannot see a day when we will ever play in the Champions League. Next season the best we can possibly hope for is to be among a group of middle ranking clubs who will fight to finish in seventh place (as we did a year ago) in the Premier League. I’d love to be wrong and see us emulating Leicester of a year ago. But it won’t happen.

Will The Transfer Predators Be Circling West Ham?

Keeping the predators at bay, pesky buy-back clauses and goalkeepers have grabbed the attention in recent days.

Somewhere on a Facebook status you might well read that there are only 73 sleeps to the start of the Premier League programme. With the dust barely settled on the domestic season all attention is now firmly focused on player transfers.  TV revenue smoulders in the pockets of owners, club managers organise their recruitment wish lists and agents rub their hands in glee. Meanwhile supporters are assailed with a relentless stream of transfer speculation that stretches form the spectacular to the absurd.

In the space of just a few days, a pack of reliable journalists and unnamed sources have seen West Ham linked with a selection of talent that, if consummated, would leave little change out of a £100 million; a figure that while implausible pales into insignificance alongside the reported £300 million apiece sprees planned by each of the two Manchester clubs.

If past performance is repeated then the early days represent the phoney bidding war where we publicly announce unlikely bids for unrealistic targets; players who are already overwhelmed with alternative options from clubs who can offer European competition and are equipped with Five Star rather than B&B style training and recreation facilities.

One of the criticisms regularly thrown at the West Ham board is that they are closer to the ‘Two Bobs’ rather than the ‘Two (multi-millionaire) Daves’ who are only prpepared to invest the minimum for survival as the value of their investment escalates. Personally I feel this is a little unfair and an examination of net versus gross transfer spend is revealing. West Ham are close to the top of net spenders but become also-rans when gross spending is taken into account; a reflection that our squad is more Steptoe’s than Sotheby’s and has lacked, fro many years, any real saleable assets.  No-one wants to be thought of as a selling-club but it is a sign of success when others covet your star players.

If I was the Chairman I would be taking time-out from the arduous task of putting together bids in order to issue  Hands-Off Notices to potential predators that may have designs on the few players capable of operating at a higher level; the likes of Lanzini. Obiang, Reid and Antonio. There are others such as Cresswell and Ogbonna that I am in two minds about but listening to offers on anyone else would be quite acceptable and any joy in moving on Valencia, Ayew, Snodgrass and Feghouli could generate a little extra loose change for re-investment.

There has been limited speculation (as far as I have seen) regarding players leaving the London Stadium apart from a couple of clubs interested in the services of Fletcher (no surprise if he leaves) and a story that Brighton are preparing to test West Ham’s resolve (a phrase that is never heard outside football transfers) with an approach for Snodgrass. This would be one situation where my resolve would be about as strong as a butterfly with a broken heart.

The Buy Back Clause seems to have joined the Buy Out Clause as the must-have in modern day football contracts. It is allegedly a stumbling block in West Ham’s pursuit of Manchester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho. It has the whiff of something worse than Third Party Influence if you ask me but is deemed to be perfectly above board as far as the authorities are concerned. Now if we were able to include a Full Refund, Money Back Guarantee If Not Completely Satisfied Clause in our summer dealings then we might be getting somewhere.

Part of West Ham’s summer planning will allegedly include the recruitment of a new goalkeeper if reports are to be believed. Spending money on a keeper is always a tricky one. It is like having some extra cash to spend on your car and upgrading the safety equipment in preference to buying a sexy paint-job, monster sound system or alloy wheels. The last time we spent big money on a keeper, to sign Phil Parkes for a world record fee, it turned out to be something of a masterstroke that served the club magnificently for many years.  It could be money well spent.

A welcome return to the top flight of English football to Huddersfield Town, after a break of 55 years or so, to take on the mantle of representing Yorkshire following Hull City’s departure. To have gained promotion with a negative goal difference is quite a feat and it will be fascinating to see how manager David Wagner’s organisation and tactics fare in the Premier League.   They will almost certainly join Brighton as favourites for relegation.

Midweek Miscellany: The Hip Replacement Guy

The close season resembles an episode of Casualty as manager Bilic joins his players in the operating theatre.

Slaven Bilic

One joke that never fails to make me smile is the one about the two coolest dudes in the hospital being the Hip Replacement Guy and the Ultra-Sound Man.  Now that his team’s limp season has come to an end, our very own cool manager will be joining a host of players by going under the knife with Slaven opting for a hip replacement that is likely to keep him out of action for up to 6 weeks. We wish him a speedy and full recovery and hope that he will emerge far more flexible in every sense of the word at the end of his recuperation.

With no news to the contrary, the assumption has to be that Bilic will be staying in the West Ham hot seat, at least for the time being, to begin the final year of his current contract. It creates both an added incentive and pressure to get next season off to a flying start if he is to avoid dead-man walking status by the time the festive period comes around.

With Slaven temporarily out of action there must be potential implications for the allocation of war-chest funds during the upcoming transfer window. If we are to believe what we read, transfer decisions are collectively agreed by Bilic, transfer supremo Tony Henry and David Sullivan, in his role as de facto Director of Football and as the man signing the cheques from the Bank of Dave. With two shocking transfer windows behind them what could possibly go wrong?

The chatter (or is it the chtwitter) coming out of the club is that sights are set on three of four new signings to launch that leap to the much vaunted next level. The one name cropping up with great regularity in that sense is 32 year old Pablo Zabaleta: better than what we have?, yes; a signing for the future and a statement of ambition?, no! It is my over-riding fear that transfer focus will be on experienced but past-their-best individuals that offer little but to keep the club treading water.

A transfer rumour that cropped up today was a swap with Inter Milan that would see 30 year old Eder heading for London and 23 year old Arthur Masuaku going in the opposite direction. I sincerely hope that this one is from the made-up nonsense basket as neither part of that exchange holds any attraction. Masuaku looks just the sort of prospect that we need to keep despite the suspicion that he has contracted Rush Green syndrome (formerly known as Chadwell Heath syndrome) whereby a player has an irrational fear of leaving the treatment room.

I was relieved to hear that Jermaine Defoe had taken his ageing shooting boots to a more suitable retirement home on the south coast.  He is another that could make a reasonable short term difference but no more.  The motto: “good is the enemy of great” should be prominently displayed on the wall of the transfer control nerve centre as a reminder of our supposed ambition; right next to the one that says “You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps!”

Midweek Miscellany: The Transfer Window Beckons

Time to forget about the football and concentrate on the more exiting matter of transfer speculation.

Owners and Manager

As the embers of the final week of Premier League action slowly die away we can soon move on in earnest to the more serious business of transfer speculation.  From what was once a few column inches in the Sunday newspapers many years ago has blossomed into a major internet industry where news-feeds are full of more and more tempting and ambiguous transfer headlines designed to seduce the excited reader to click on through.

The beauty of transfer speculation is that there is no pretence that it is anything other than fake news.  The more incredible or ridiculous the rumour the better, and the more it will be replicated and will spawn supplementary debate.  Whole football forums will go into meltdown berating owners and managers alike for the lack of ambition that pursuing this made up, imaginary target demonstrates.

The situation in the West Ham transfer war-room must be a strange one given that a large part of the deadwood that we have is made up of very recent purchases.   A clear-out and upgrade is essential if this seasons struggles are not to be repeated and while it would not be difficult to find better players it will be more a challenge to identify those who can become useful players in a side for the future.  My fear is that we will settle for those deemed good enough on past reputation rather than seeking out players to form individual parts of a grand design.  Without any particular defined style of play how on earth do you identify he players to fill it?

Meanwhile the owners will no doubt be giving it large and banding about names of exotic goal-machine targets who are usually well out of our current lower table league.  I’m sure that even our owners don’t believe such boasts sells season tickets; it merely serves to lower their credibility.  I don’t often agree with (or understand) much of what Jamie Carragher says but his comment that “average players will think ‘I could talk myself into a move to West Ham'” has the whiff of truth about it.   This also applies to players looking for that one final payday.  In my view signing any player who would be over 32 or 33 at the end of their contract should only happen in very exceptional circumstances.  It is not the future unless your horizon is only 12 months.

I read a report in the week that excitedly suggested West Ham would be looking forward to receiving a windfall payment based on their likely final league position.  It seems a bit of a stretch to term this a windfall when it is well known to all how the Premier League prize money is allocated.  I imagine that if anyone at the club had prepared financial forecasts at the start of the season they would have budgeted for several millions more than we will actually receive.

We will now finish somewhere between 11th and 16th  in the table; my bet would be as low as 14th or 15th.  With just shy of £2 million for each position that equates to some £12 to £14 million less than what might have reasonably been anticipated when we kicked off in August.  I have no knowledge whether player’s contracts have any clauses related to league position but I don’t expect our boys to be busting any guts up at Burnley at the weekend.

Scanning through the news-feeds during the week there were an equal number of contradicting headlines indicating that either ‘Wenger refuses to criticise West Ham’s performance’ or ‘Wenger rips into Hammer’s Holiday mood’.  Either way we are left with Arsenal’s remote pursuit of their customary Champion’s League place as the only almost interesting unresolved matter for the final weekend.  Leaving aside the delights of a boozy afternoon out with your mates I wonder how many will bother to turn out for Super Snoozeday?