Mikel Arteta and Premier League pitch battles
Written by Simon Austin — February 2, 2020
ARSENAL manager Mikel Arteta blamed an unlikely adversary for his side’s lacklustre performance in the 0-0 draw with Burnley at Turf Moor today.
“The conditions were difficult, the grass was this long,” the Spaniard said, holding thumb and forefinger about three inches apart to emphasise his point.
“They didn’t put any water on it and obviously that is not a very helpful thing to play football.”
The Spaniard was widely ridiculed on social media for his comments, but did he have a point?
Rules stipulate that the grass must not exceed 30mm in length for Premier League matches (1.18 inches) and this is checked by officials before a game.
“In reality, 30mm is still very long though and most pitches will have grass between 20 and 22mm in length,” a former Premier League groundsman, who now runs his own pitch company, told TGG.
“Burnley may well have gone longer than that, to slow down Arsenal’s passing, but the grass still won’t have been longer than 30mm.”
The 30mm maximum applies across the pitch. “Some teams used to grow the grass longer on the flanks to slow down the opposition wingers, so this rule about uniformity was brought in to combat that.”
The groundsman said it is actually "the watering that matters most", because "there is a lot more friction on the ball when the pitch is dry and that really slows it down.”
Usually, the home club waters the pitch about two hours before kick off and again after the warm-up and during half time. This binds the soil and provides “leaf moisture”, which ensures the ball moves slickly over the surface.
In the Champions League, the home team has to declare whether they will water the pitch after the warm up and the away team has to agree in order for this to happen, but the same rule does not apply in the Premier League.
“Burnley would have watered the pitch a couple of two hours before kick off, to bind the soil, but they may have chosen to do so again,” the groundsman said.
Whatever the case, home teams preparing the pitch to their own advantage is hardly new. In 2014, Arteta's former manager at Arenal, Arsene Wenger, said: “I know perfectly - and you know perfectly as well - that some managers give orders to their groundsman sometimes to not cut the grass because they play against a team who passes the ball well."
The Frenchman called on the Premier League to reduce the 30mm grass length limit to ensure good football. "We have to be above that and it's quite sad that we have to regulate it. I think we all have to serve people who come and watch good football," he said.
Some managers ask their groundsmen to prepare the training ground pitches according to their next opponent. For example, if they anticipate that the opposition might prepare a dry pitch with longer grass, then they would ensure that the players could prepare on a similar surface during the week.