Our Way is the Right Way

March 2, 2010

We’ve had 2 days to digest the events of Saturday afternoon. The emotions have calmed and the parties involved have stated their case. Every Tom, Dick and ‘Arry has expressed an opinion. These are simply my conclusions.

The tackle was not malicious if you believe as I do, that Shawcross did not intend to break Ramsey’s leg. He was late, he missed the ball and used excessive force. A combination of over-aggression, lack of ability and poor decision making. The responsibility for the injury lies totally with Shawcross as he chose to enter into a challenge where damage to his opponent was a distinct possibility. In any other walk of life, under current Health and Safety laws, Shawcross could be prosecuted for the act.

A message to the Stan Collymore’s of this world who repeatedly trot out the line that “football is a contact sport”. The rules have changed. Tackles from behind have been outlawed. Two footed tackles are not allowed. Tackles with the studs up are not allowed.

The rules stipulate: – careless tackles are not punished; reckless tackles are a yellow card; excessive force is a red card. Shawcross was correctly given a red card because his ‘tackle’ contravened the rules. Those rules are in place to prevent players from suffering injury.

Football is not a contact sport like boxing. It is a game of skill where a level of physical contact is allowed, but that level should fall below the point where injury occurs. Would the fools who justify breaking the rules of football as a means of combatting more skillful play also advocate shoplifting if someone is short of money? – it’s an equally ridiculous attitude.

Thomas Vermaelen is a tough, physical competitive footballer, I can’t remember a single instance of him jumping in with a two footed, over the ball challenge. In fact I can’t ever remember the likes of Adams, Keown or Bould producing such crude challenges – perfectly timed slide tackles maybe. Defending and tackling are skills which didn’t require the opponent to get injured even in the ‘good old days’ that the Collymore’s of this world refer to.

The post match interviews and subsequent statements by Tony Pulis and Arsène Wenger were pretty much what you’d expect. I don’t think Pulis is a bad manager or a bad man. He sets his sides up to maximise their limited ability by creating a narrow pitch and rehearsing set plays that are hard to defend. He can’t afford to buy players with a high level of skill so he settles for brawn as it means he has a reasonable chance of getting enough points through a more physical approach to keep them in the premiership, but therein lies the problem. Arsène has built this squad on an equally low budget but managed to put the emphasis on skill by virtue of his ability and vision.

Arsène feels a huge sense of responsibility for his players and to see one of ‘his boys’ receive a career threatening injury for the third time in five years was extremely upsetting for him. I’m sure he is disappointed that football in England seems to have gone backwards rather than aspiring to the more sophisticated approach at the highest level on the continent. He must see the extreme irony in the view that some correspondents have expressed actually blaming him for the injury because he has made his players vulnerable by concentrating too much on skill.

Cesc said it all when being presented with the MotM award….

“You could ask yourself, we are not protected enough – I think so. You speak to the referee, ‘play on, play on’, I know it is England, I know it’s a great game, I know we all love this kind of play, but sometimes there is a top you cannot pass and we are sometimes victims”

– actually, a bit of an understatement I’d say!

Cesc has been systematically targeted by opposition ‘hard men’ all season. The horror tackle on Ramsey could just as easily have been against him. He has not been protected by referees and has received cards himself for seemingly innocuous tackles.

This debate must not be allowed to subside. It is a shame that so much focus is being placed on Stoke since it is actually the referees who have the power to avoid such situations by applying the rules fairly and consistently. Some referees seem to subscribe to the theory that it is OK to kick Arsenal players otherwise we have an unfair advantage due to the greater technical ability. The referee’s job is to protect the players. On many ocassions, they have failed to carry out that duty when officiating games involving Arsenal.

The players have learned from the experience of two years ago. They showed a resilience and determination after the injury that they lacked in 2008. That was due in no small part to the immense character and leadership of Campbell and Vermaelen as well as Cesc.

Every supporter would have traded the win for Ramsey escaping injury, but somehow the injustice has created an energy and will to succeed that has made even the most hardened sceptic believe we really can win the league. Justice for the good guys, for football and for a club that places the important values above winning trophies.

With the exception of our London rivals and fans of the other top four clubs, Arsenal is the team most supporters want to see win the league. We’ll win it our way or we’ll just keep trying because our way is what makes Arsenal unique and I wouldn’t have it any other way.