I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. “He’s in real trouble here,” were the words from the commentators, but by that point it was more than obvious. Ankles and tibias and fibulas aren’t supposed to look like that. [ad#as2]
“My God, look at his leg” were the first words out of my mouth to a friend viewing the match with me, after my 26th profanity-laced exclamation regarding Stoke’s “tactics.” And like every Arsenal fan, of course there were immediate flashbacks to just two years prior – almost to the day – and the horrific injury to Eduardo at Birmingham City courtesy of Martin Taylor.
The looks on the faces of the Arsenal players were familiar as well. Anger, shock, sadness, horror. But then came the fury, which was not seen in that fateful match two years ago – a 90th minute penalty from Fabregas, and then an injury-time clincher from Vermaelen, a complete antithesis of the Birmingham match which saw the Gunners give up an injury-time penalty of their own, leading to an unraveling that cost them a great shot at the Premier League title. At least in the short term, Aaron Ramsey’s injury seemed to galvanize the squad and spur them to a huge victory, bring them back to within just three points of leaders Chelsea with 10 matches to play.
Now then, to the question of the day – the question of intent, or malice. Did Ryan Shawcross intentionally break Ramsey’s leg? Of course not. Was the tackle malicious? No. But was it reckless and brutal? Absolutely. Are the tactics that teams like Stoke employ against Arsenal going to inevitably lead to such injuries? Well, the proof and evidence is mounting. This is the third such injury to an Arsenal player in four seasons, with Abou Diaby suffering a oft-forgotten ankle fracture that put him out of action for nearly a year.
Stoke City manager Tony Clueless – sorry – Pulis, stated that Shawcross was “not that kind of lad,” but his history speaks to the contrary. He had a nearly identical incident in Holland a few years back, and Arsenal fans will remember his tackle from behind on Adebayor last season, when the Togolese striker was nearly five yards off the pitch, that put him out of action for a crucial month-long stretch.
There is no debating that these teams are given a certain set of instructions when playing against Arsenal. The code words are “Get stuck in,” “Get up in them,” “Get in their faces,” etc. But we all know what it’s really all about. And it’s probably an indictment of English football in general, and perhaps part of the reason England hasn’t won a World Cup in over four decades. Any display of true skill and creativity is generally met with brutality. Two of the selling points of the Premier League are the speed and physicality it presents, both of which provide a stark contrast to that of Spain, Italy, etc. But there are limits, and there’s no place in the game for those who exceed those limits on a regular basis. The Shawcross tackle was just one incident in a game filled with absurdly physical and reckless play by Stoke. Former US star Eric Wynalda compared teams like Stoke playing against Arsenal to a group of people teasing a dog by tossing a tennis ball around, allowing the dog to just about get his mouth on the ball, then pulling it away and tossing it to the next person. It’s just a matter of time until the dog snaps and bites someone. I liked that analogy, as I liken Stoke’s playing style to that of wild dogs.
Yes, admittedly, I’m a Gooner, so I’m somewhat biased here. But I’m also a fan of the sport, and love to see skill and creativity on display. I wouldn’t enjoy seeing Joe Cole or Ashley Young or Aaron Lennon tackled in such a manner either. I don’t enjoy seeing promising 19-year-old players carted off the field, with their career on hold, if not ended entirely. What’s the answer? I don’t know. Stiffer penalties? Unpaid suspensions? Suspensions lasting as long as the injured player’s absence? All would be very difficult to legislate. Is it simply ingrained in the English game?
Anybody have any ideas? Frankie is all ears.