Before I get on to what I want to talk about – Wilshere’s tackle and the subsequent reactions both from within the club and from the press, I should just mention Saturday’s game, as I haven’t yet had the opportunity.
Put simply, it was a vital three points. Birmingham have taken painful points from us in recent years, at critical junctures in our title-challenging seasons, and at one stage on Saturday were threatening to do so again, at a time when United when 2-0 up and coasting against WBA. It was shaping up to be another bad weekend, but the tide turned, our rivals dropped points, and with injuries clearing up the outlook is suddenly a lot brighter. Funny how things can change.
The goal that got us back on terms was contentious – Chamakh appeared to go to ground very easily, although there may have been contact with Johnson. The Moroccan is getting a bit of a name for himself as a penalty winner, although in fairness they have generally been correct decisions. Johnson labelled Chamakh a ‘disgrace’ after the game, but he should take a moment to reflect on a) why he swung a leg at him in the first place and b) why he drove his elbow into his head shortly afterwards. Selective memory?
From there, we were much improved, and impressed until the dying moments, when Wilshere lost control and lunged into a reckless challenge that saw him rightly sent off. Almost immediately you sensed what was going to happen – the momentum against such tackles had grown over the international break, with the story becoming bigger than just Arsenal, but here was an opportunity to make it all about Wenger again, and go back to laughing at the issue. It mattered not that Wenger immediately said that it was a red card and he would talk to Wilshere about his tackling, or that the player himself showed maturity beyond his years in releasing a statement apologising for the challenge. And while I’m not excusing it (it deserved the red), it was nowhere near as bad as others we’ve seen defended in recent times.
McLeish came out after the game calling for it to be an opportunity to draw a line under to Eduardo injury. Er, no – that injury was the inevitable consequence of a quite deliberate tactic teams were employing against us at the time, and have since. Wilshere’s was a bad tackle, but there was no intent stirred up in the dressing room. I know you might think my bias is leading me to separate the issues, but we’ve been the victims of so many ‘reducer’ challenges over recent years that we all know it to be a predetermined tactic. That is very different from the recklessness of youth.
Of course, the baying press don’t see it that way. Take this ridiculous column from the Daily Mail, entitled “Arsene Wenger’s aura finally shattered by Arsenal’s excuses for Jack Wilshere’s reckless tackle“. Yes, you read that right – despite Wenger making absolutely no excuses for the challenge in any way, this is the angle the Mail have gone for. Wenger actually said:
“He mistimed his tackle and got a red card, which he deserved. Jack has acknowledged he deserved it.“
The Mail, on the other hand, went with this:
“Then he witnessed one of his team execute the sort of dangerous tackle he has campaigned so vociferously to have stamped out of the game…and sought to excuse him.”
You can tell they are simply inventing the story, because they have precisely no quotes to back that line up. Which isn’t surprising, given the contradiction it would cause. It is truly depressing stuff, and you can even imagine the conversation:
Editor: “Ha, one of Arsene’s boys got sent off! He’s a hypocrite! He’s a hypocrite! He hates those tackles but excuses his own team! Write that story, Jeff, write it now.”
Jeff: “Er, boss, Wenger’s come out and condemned the tackle.”
Jeff: “Well, he isn’t being a hypocrite, is he? Other managers excuse their players, come out with ‘not that kind of player’ lines, and allow them to make those challenges over and over. In fact, they encourage it. Wenger’s making sure Wilshere doesn’t do it again, and has already led him to apologise.”
Editor: “You think that’ll sell papers? YOU THINK THAT’LL SELL PAPERS? Just write the story, you idiot, and pretend he never said that. Ignore the quotes, or invent one from a ‘club insider’. Now get out!”
It is truly depressing stuff, but I’ve already lost count of the number of people I know who are more aware of this kind of story than the real comments, and therefore truly believe Wenger is trying to defend the challenge. The press really do create the story these days, rather than report it, and sadly a very large proportion buy every word.
The truth is entirely palatable, and shows us in a much better light. While the likes of McLeish and Pulis seek to use this incident for their own gain, it is interesting to compare and contrast – Wilshere, still a teenager, has released a statement apologising for a tackle that caused no injury, insisting he will learn from it, while his manager has made no attempt to defend him. Ryan Shawcross has caused three serious injuries in his fledging career, cannot understand why Wenger has something against him for shattering Ramsey’s leg, and still comes out insisting he will not change his style. What exactly would make him reconsider? And his manager continues to rail against Wenger, coming out with this nugget:
“I’ve got nothing against foreign managers, they are very nice people. Apart from Arsene Wenger.”
One of the most classless comments I’ve seen in a long time. If you have a personal problem with another manager, as Pulis clearly does, then you should go down the route of wit, rather than blunt and frankly piss poor insults. But I guess that is more than his caveman brain can understand. What amuses me is that Pulis is still responding to Wenger calling them a rugby team back in August. Yes, two whole months ago. And Pulis calls Wenger a whinger.
Now who’s the hypocrite?