Arsenal’s 4-1 win at home to Wigan on Tuesday not only put the Gunners a point ahead of Tottenham Hotspur in the race of Champions League qualification, it also raised the possibility of a one-match playoff with Chelsea to determine third place in the Premier League.
Should Rafael Benitez’s men only draw at home to Everton on Sunday, a win for Arsene Wenger and Co. at Newcastle would leave the two London sides level on 73 points.
But the playoff scenario doesn’t end there.
Both goal difference and goals scored would have to be equal as well, which means Arsenal would have to defeat the Magpies by a single goal while tallying two more than Chelsea on the day. A 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge and 3-2 Arsenal win at St. James’ Park, for example, would trigger the one-match affair, which would be held at Villa Park.
Premier League Rule C14 reads as follows:
If at the end of the season either the league champions or the clubs to be relegated or the question of qualification for other competitions cannot be determined because two or more clubs are equal on points, goal difference and goals scored, the clubs concerned shall play off one or more deciding league matches on neutral grounds, the format, timing and venue of which shall be determined by the board.
Talk about a headache.
While a one-off contest to settle the title would be an exhilarating affair, the same cannot be said of a playoff staged to separate third place from fourth, a Champions League Group Stage berth from Champions League qualification spot.
There are many ways to resolve such a question, and an extra match on the schedule should only be used as a final point of recourse.
The head-to-head record, for instance, could be figured into any tiebreaking equation. As goals scored and goal difference is already included in the overall table, it follows that similar criteria could also be applied to the clubs in question. And as Chelsea won 2-1 both at home and away to Arsenal, that the possibility of a playoff has even been raised is rather absurd.
Head-to-head records are already used to break ties in tournament football, and before such a spectre raises itself again the Premier League should adjust their rules to include such a calculation ahead of next season.
There are other, more interesting ways to break a deadlock as well.
Third and fourth could even be determined by a match between the clubs’ youth squads—a measure that would add a bit of emphasis to academies and underage setups. Even disciplinary records could be applied in separating the two positions.
A playoff should only be used if all other options have been exhausted, and that they most certainly haven’t only suggests the decision-makers missed a step in their thinking when writing the rulebook.