Stoke 1 (Pugh 8) Arsenal 3 (Bendtner 32, Fabregas pen 89, Vermaelen 90)
It should have been such a sweet day. Chelsea went down at home to Man City, getting two men sent off in the process, and we put to bed one of the tougher games we have remaining to close to gap at the top to three points.
But unfortunately, all that pales into insignificance when you consider Aaron Ramsey’s horrific injury. Almost exactly two years since Eduardo had his leg shattered by Martin Taylor, the images of Ramsey’s lower leg hanging limply and facing in the wrong direction brought an unpleasant sense of deja vu, and will live long in the memory. As fans, it is sickening to see the career of such a young talent being threatened by such an awful incident, so it is hard to imagine what was going through the minds of the players in the aftermath. They train alongside Ramsey every day, they see his ability unfurling before them, and in a split second they see it potentially taken away. It is to their immense credit that they were able to go on and win the game.
I’ve seen Shawcross’ challenge, and the pictures are grotesque, and for that reason I won’t be posting them here. If you really want to view the damage, there are plenty of places you can go. But I will say this – although it was a really poor challenge, and worthy of the red card it duly received, it was not, in my opinion, up there with the similar incidents of the past few years.
Two years ago, Martin Taylor did not set out to break Eduardo’s leg. But it was apparent from the type of tackle that it was an ‘enforcer challenge’, the sort that lets opponents know you are there. It is a favoured tactic of those teams who claim Arsenal ‘do not like it up them’ or ‘can be bullied’. Broken legs and serious injuries are a natural consequence of such a tackle being put in week after week, and those promoting this as the way to beat Arsenal should take a long hard look at themselves. Fuller’s comments prior to this match, and the FA Cup tie, that they intended to bully and kick Arsenal now seem somewhat foolish and expose the exact issue. The likes of Mark Lawrenson, forever amused when we get chopped down, should also feel contrite this morning.
Two years before Eduardo, Dan Smith shattered Diaby’s ankle with a challenge that was no less than assault. There was intent to injure on that occasion, and frankly he should have been banned for a very long time.
But yesterday’s incident was not along those lines. There was no clear intent to foul or injure from Shawcross, it was just a hard tackle – a hard tackle that was badly mistimed and over the top on to a standing leg. It deserved the red card, but it does not warrant demonisation of the player.
However, the lack of intent does not mean Shawcross should be painted as a victim. Already the usual lines are being trotted out – ‘he is devastated’, ‘he is not that kind of player’, and we’re expected to have sympathy for him. Sorry, but no. As a analogy, consider this: if you are in a hurry one day, and drive carelessly through a village, hitting and injuring a child, are you a victim, no matter how much care you normally take behind the wheel? Of course not.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the player is absolutely broken. He should be, and in a way I do feel sorry for him – going back to the analogy, it would feel incredibly unfair if you see reckless drivers getting away with it time and time again, yet the first time you make a mistake there are horrendous consequences. Shawcross is in that position – he will inevitably feel dreadful for the consequences of his tackle, and that feeling will live with him for a while.
But that does not make him a victim. That position goes to a nineteen year old on the brink of establishing himself at a top club having already done so for his country, who has had his career put on the line in an instant. Even if he comes back, it will put his development back by at least a year, at a crucial stage in his footballing education.
Wenger was understandably upset after the match:
“I’m not very happy with the tackle. I just want to say we know what we are expecting, a battle everywhere, but we have now lost three players – (Abou) Diaby, Eduardo and Ramsey today, a boy of 19 years old – on horrendous tackles.
“It’s always coincidence. I don’t believe in coincidence when you are hit as many times as we do.”
He is right – this has happened too many times, and it is certainly not a coincidence. Frankly, anyone who thinks there is no connection between us being seen as a team you can bully and kick, and the number of impact injuries we’ve suffered in recent years, is a fool. The cause and effect is plain to see. But clubs aren’t going to cease with the tactic – technically inferior teams are always looking for a way to put us off our game, which is understandable. So the referees need to throw away this notion that you should not caution people in the early stages, and clamp down on challenges designed only to bully. If enforcer tackles are made in the first minute, react to it the same way you do in the 90th, and get the cards out. It is the only way to stop it.
The other bone of contention, as with Taylor, is the length of suspension that the perpetrator receives, as opposed to the period the victim is out of the game. I have long been an advocate of a sliding scale, where three matches are given for simple red card challenges, raising your hands etc, but much stiffer penalties when intent is there. It may be subjective, but the governing bodies already have to judge intent when a flailing arm catches an opponent – I see no reason why they cannot do the same here. And it there is intent, give them six matches instead.
And here’s the important part – ban the ‘tackler’ for six games for a shocking challenge even if the victim escapes unscathed. Too often we are reactionary, and it would be ridiculous to wait for another broken leg before the rule was used. Stamp the problem out.
But, as I’ve said, I don’t believe Shawcross had any intent to hurt Ramsey, and for that reason I wouldn’t go beyond the three matches. Taylor would have received more for his challenge, while Dan Smith would be looking at a very lengthy spell on the sidelines.
Before I move away from the subject, I want to touch of the behaviour of two parties. The first came from the Stoke players, particularly Glenn Whelan, who showed a great deal of class in looking after Ramsey in the seconds that followed his injury. Some players would protest the red card, some would go to their distraught teammate, but he recognised the gravity of the situation and went straight to the stricken player. For that, he deserves a lot of credit.
The same cannot be said of a portion of the Stoke support. While many generously applauded Ramsey off, probably feeling for him as a human being, not a rival footballer, there were some who thought it appropriate to sing ‘You’ve only got one leg’ as the poor kid was whisked away towards an ambulance. Others abused him with hand signals and jeers. Frankly, the actions of that minority were utterly disgusting, and I hope there were instances where right-minded Stoke supporters took it on themselves to let their idiotic colleagues know exactly how out of line they were. Absolutely horrendous.
I suppose I should mention the actual football. We were poor in the early stages, conceding another goal to Delap’s long throws, Pugh tapping in at the far post after Vermaelen had played him onside. But after a decent fightback, we equalised with exactly the sort of goal you would expect us to concede – an early cross from Cesc, and Bendtner rose between defenders to loop a perfect header in the corner. Game on.
In the second half, Eboue showed us good and bad, a piledriver effort being the positive, a woeful dive the negative, and Eduardo missed a great chance late on. We should have had three penalties – one tug on Ramsey, the one the was given for Pugh’s handball, and a further one for a blatant shove on Bendtner.
The middle of the trio was awarded, and Cesc buried it, dedicating the goal to Ramsey with three poignant taps of his ankle. And minutes later, Rosicky had a powerful shot saved, before Cesc squared it to Vermaelen to seal the victory. The celebrations that followed showed just how important the three points were.
From a purely football point of view, it was fantastic. One of the three remaining tough games (the other two being City at home and Spurs away) has been cast aside, questions answered in the process. Even the doubters are beginning to believe, and the pundits are seeing us as the team on the rise.
But while that is great, all of our thoughts today are for a young footballer whose livelihood is in jeopardy. Get well soon, Aaron Ramsey.