Sunday, 28 February 2010

Football 3 Boxing 1. Stoke match report.

Stoke City 1 Arsenal 3

In America, the people go on about their 2nd Amendment rights to own a gun. And so, despite 2004 figures showing that almost 12,000 people are murdered a year by guns, it is oh so easy to acquire a gun in America.

The point here, is that the crime is not in owning a gun: if I had a pistol framed on my bedroom wall it wouldn't threaten anyone. But the gun gives individuals temptation and that is why so many people are murdered.

The parable to the Stoke match yesterday is clear: it's not having the ability to make a leg-breaking tackle which is the issue; it is putting it into action. Every football match, 22 players stride out onto the pitch before kick-off. And whilst I'm not saying that Ryan Shawcross broke Ramsey's leg on purpose, it is about how you play the game.

I struggle to believe that any footballer is that callous that they go out on the field to deliberately break an opponent's leg. But the indictment on Stoke is that if you play in that style, then this sort of thing should be expected. A tactic of trying to 'rough up' the opposition is not absolutely wrong in of itself although I think it is deplorable; but it is the by-products which come from it that are so terrible: you try and show someone you're there by clipping their heel early on but you're a little late and instead you break your leg. Of course it's an over-the-top example but no more so than Shawcross' tackle.

There's the old cliché 'you live by the sword, you die by the sword' and that might be true if there was some kind of reasonable punishment for Shawcross. But there isn't. Shawcross potentially ends the career of one of the best young talents in football and gets a three match ban; Alex Song does nothing wrong and gets a two match ban. Go figure.

Shawcross will be a little of a scapegoat, but this argument he is innocent is absolute rubbish. It's probably true that the baseball-cap wearing one sent Stoke out to 'rough us up' and insofar as it could have been any of their team who was guilty then perhaps there can be some sympathy for Shawcross.

But after the match, the manager spoke out, saying
"I don't believe in coincidence."

Quite. When I was eleven, my maths teacher told me that to forget your homework once was an accident, twice was forgetful and three times was worth a punishment. Well, go figure. If you look here and here, you can see this was not the first time Shawcross had been guilty of what, ultimately is, a heinous crime on a football pitch. And whilst the entire Stoke team seems to play in a - to these eyes - deplorable style, it is no coincidence that it has been Shawcross who has been repeatedly guilty.

This is particularly true as there is clearly some humanity in this Stoke team. Thomas Sorensen has played in English football for over ten years and has always seemed like a gentleman. Glen Whelan stayed with Ramsey the whole time he was down yesterday. But that wasn't there from Shawcross. And that, ultimately, is the point: I'll concede it wasn't intentional. But while some Stoke players understand that they are trying to play a physical game to negate Arsenal's options, Shawcross seemed to relish the tactical system, positively foaming at the mouth at the chance to hack some players down.

Partly, the problem lies with the referees: if they got their cards out early and tried to stamp it out then it would be less of an issue. But because of the rotational fouling which was clear last time we played Stoke, once they don't do that, they end up letting them get away with it all game.

Ramsey's potential has been clear to see to this observer and it is fair to ask where he will go from here? It is easy to criticise Wenger's youth project, but without it would a player like Ramsey have been enticed to Arsenal? That, is probably the most salient question right now. Ramsey was the golden egg of that perhaps costly goose, and arguably, with him out injured the youth project will come under ever more pressure to cease.

Unfortunately, because of the furore over Shawcross' tackle, the fact Arsenal put in a really excellent performance has been overlooked. Twice before we had been to the Britannia stadium and twice before we had been outfought and bullied out of the game. The corresponding League match last season was the last time an Arsenal player really lost it, when RVP got so wound up by Stoke's tactics he decided to get himself sent off. Clearly, Arsenal really don't enjoy playing away to Stoke.

Of course, in the interests of good banter, we had the early Stoke goal from a long throw. That, and the sun rising, were the two most predictable things which happened yesterday. But after the Sunderland match, Goodplaya had been quite right in describing this game as 'bellwether'. It was. And yet, as Kevin Whitcher has pointed out on the Online Gooner, despite twice being under the metaphorical cosh, Arsenal responded.

Wenger said in his post-match interview this team has changed and I'm inclined to agree. Aside from being wound up by Tony Pulis in November 2008, who I promptly branded with the moniker SCWWABC - see here for an explanation - it was also very depressing to see an Arsenal side who couldn't respond to going behind.

This time we did. It took a while, but suddenly we were competitive in the tackle and started to pass the ball properly. And then Bendtner scored for us: a real strikers' goal, something this team has been missing. 1-1 and you could see the heads go up.

In a sense, this is what makes the Ramsey/Shawcross incident even more surprising. Because after 35-40 minutes, Stoke sort of noticed the aggression wasn't working anf backed off a little bit. And yet Shawcross still did that. Maybe this is just me attempting character assassination but in my eyes, there is something seriously wrong with him.

But for all our dominance - and one or two good penalty shouts - we couldn't make it count. In the past, an incident like Ramsey's injury would have seen this team fold. Fabregas and Vermaelen, among others, were clearly upset.

Yet, the obvious comparison is easy: at St Andrews, despite defending Gallas at the time, the ex-captain let his team-mates down. This time Fabregas stood up and showed why he is such a great man, as well as a great player. To put that penalty home showed immense guts. If this was a bellwether game, the skipper surely showed the direction this Arsenal team is going in.

What with Chelsea's defeat earlier in the day, although Ramsey got injured it was still a good day for us. The potential three horse race alluded to after the Liverpool match is most certainly on. The fixture list is kind to us now, and if we produce a marvellous March, there could be some silverware at Ashburton Grove.

In 2008, there was the sentiment of winning it for Eduardo and we actually went off and didn't win for a few weeks; this time, let's actually win for Ramsey.

Keep the faith,


BerbaDov said...

'Shawcross seemed to relish the tactical system, positively foaming at the mouth at the chance to hack some players down.'
Don't blame this youngster who was clearly shaken by it. He meant no harm.
These kind of tackles take place every weekend (Gallas on Davies was probably worse). Its just unfortunate that such a terrible injury has happened to Ramsey who i honestly hope recovers asap(fergie missed out on him)

Adam said...

I agree he didn't intend to break his leg but I'm unsure about this suggestion that he meant no harm.

Looking at the previous incidents he's been in it seems fair to say that if you play like he does you bring this sort of thing upon yourself.

And I agree that tackles like this happen often but that doesn't make it better...

Anonymous said...

Berbadov, go fuck yourself! I sincerely pray to god that you break a limb through the reckless action of some idiot. We will see then how measured and civilised your response is. Fucking bastard!

BerbaDov said...

adam, i agree these tackles are bad but they happen because players want the ball. arsenal players make bad challenges too and go back to the nineties and arsenal were one of the 'roughest' teams around. just as im writing this i see keown on motd2 will be wearing a united shirt :)
And anonymous some idiot broke one of my bones a couple of years ago but because it was a mistake i wasnt angry at him in the slightest