Players need to sue to stop tackles like the one that broke Luke Shaw’s leg

Here’s the article I’d much rather be writing this morning: Arsenal face a tough test in Zagreb to kick off their 16th consecutive Champions League campaign . But events yesterday forced my hand and now here I am writing about yet another young player who had his leg broken playing football.

When I woke up yesterday the news was starting to spread that Jack Wilshere required surgery to fix a hairline fracture in his “good” ankle. This was the ankle which was nearly broken last year by a poorly timed and aggressive challenge by Manchester United defender Paddy McNair.

Football fans on Twitter reacted to the news in typical fashion, “taking the mickey” and calling Jack Wilshere, Jack Wheelchair. The hashtag trended enough to make the Independent report on it and that means that fans of all clubs (including Arsenal) participated.

It’s an unedifying sight to see football fans act like this and I’m sure the vast majority of the people who love the game would agree with me that people who laugh at player injuries are the human equivalent of that guy from Karate Kid who yells out “get him a body bag”. This behavior masquerades as “club tribalism” and to a certain extent that’s true. Because just a few hours later, the same Man United fans who were mocking Wilshere’s injury were sending out heartfelt “prayers” for their player, Luke Shaw.

For those who don’t know, Luke Shaw, Man United fullback, had his leg broken by an absurd tackle made by PSV’s Hector Moreno in last night’s Champions League opening match between the two teams. It was the 15th minute of the game and Shaw was dribbling into the box, he split his markers, and Moreno, seeing the danger, slid in recklessly and with his trailing leg snapped Shaw’s standing leg in two.

Incredibly, the referee didn’t even call a foul on the play and this, for me, is the real failure.

This isn’t Moreno’s first ride, folks. He broke his own leg making the exact same type of tackle on Arjen Robben at the 2014 Brazil World Cup (en Español). And he made the exact same type of tackle on Ashley Young, in the very game he broke Luke Shaw’s leg:

Football has made progress on tackling down the years. The tackle from behind was outlawed, the two-footed tackle was outlawed, stud’s-up tackles were outlawed, and high tackling has been outlawed. But what still isn’t illegal are the scissors tackle and the idea that the amount of force used is irrelevant as long as the defender wins the ball.

The scissors tackle is what it looks like Moreno did. He lunged at the ball with one leg and followed through with his trailing leg. This trailing leg tackle is never going to win a ball and is always only going to take a player down. It also requires that the defender goes THROUGH the man, this means that by definition, the defender must use enough force to break a standing leg. The defender cannot complete this tackle without using enough force to break his opponent’s leg. It’s just not physically possible.

According to the current laws of the game, this tackle should be outlawed: by going through the man the defender uses excessive force to win the ball. That is and always should be a red card.

But oddly, it’s not seen as a red card offense. Not only did the referee (and his various and sundry assistants) not see a foul, but UEFA ruled out using replays to retroactively punish Moreno.

This is where the players need to step in and do something about the laws of the game. I think the players need to sue FIFA, UEFA, and the Premier League and force them to do something about player safety. The players in the NFL did just that and forced the NFL to change their rules in order to limit concussions . Concussions in the NFL are far more numerous than broken legs in football but the very types of tackles and formations that were most likely to produce concussions were outlawed.

I’m not suggesting that the NFL fixed their concussion problems after the lawsuit and I don’t think that Football players suing FIFA, UEFA, and the Premier League will prevent all future broken legs. But it’s very clear that the laws of the game are there to protect players from exactly the kind of tackle that broke Luke Shaw’s leg. And it’s also clear that UEFA, FIFA, and the Premier League are refusing to use retroactive punishment and video punishment in order to penalize players like Moreno who commit these acts of violence and thus to reduce the number of these tackles in the future.

It’s going to take a career ending injury and a player who is brave enough to sue to change these rules and truly protect these players. Until then, unless FIFA, UEFA, and the Premier League choose to crack down on these plays, we will see more broken legs, more players in wheelchairs, and more young careers threatened.



Jack out as Arsenal pack bags for Croatia

Good morning and welcome to a more informal blog. Arsenal play Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League tomorrow and there are a number of stories which I’d like to offer for discussion.

First, though, a quick revisit to yesterday’s post. I was pondering Arsenal’s amazing shots created record and it struck me that the player who is missing the most shots is Alexis. Alexis has missed 28 times this season and not scored once. That’s 25% of the team’s total shots and not a single goal. I don’t say that as a criticism but rather mean it in the way that if there was any one player on this Arsenal team who I trust to have a decent year finishing it’s Alexis Sanchez.

What’s funny about me saying that is that my criticism of the Suarez deal a few years ago was that Suarez was wasteful and a ball hog. But while I criticized his wastefulness I also recognized that Suarez put a lot of work on the field, dribbling, shooting, and creating for teammates. And since buying Alexis I’ve often said that Wenger got Sanchez because he wanted a Suarez type player on the team. Well, it looks like we got him — minus any of the drama — to a tee, right down to him turning the ball over (and frustrating people, as I predicted) and taking a ton of shots.

It’s totally faith-based but I believe in Sanchez and him coming through for the team. He’s an incredibly hard working player and sport usually rewards hard work.

The one thing that is sticking in my craw (where is the craw?) is that we can’t seem to get Alexis a rest. There are very few suitable players at Arsenal who can play in his position without a wholesale change to the lineup. Generally speaking you don’t want to radically alter your lineup if you can avoid it.

But with Wilshere now out for 6 months who can play on the left without changing the entire team structure? I know that some folks want to try Alexis through the middle and that has some merit, I suggested it myself a while back. But to accommodate that shift, Arsene needs to play Ox on the left. If he wanted to keep everything the same, that would be the least disruptive change. There are signs that Wenger’s contemplating that move as well: Ox got to play on the left when he came on against Stoke.

The other option is to rest Alexis and play Ox. I know he won’t like it but Arsenal are playing Dinamo Zagreb here and we should have the firepower in the team to beat them without Alexis, or with a brief cameo at the end of the match. Resting him for the weekend match seems like the smart thing to do.

Chelsea will be resting players, I guarantee. They are playing Maccabi Tel Aviv at Stamford bridge and there are already press reports that indicate Mourinho making a number of changes to his team. It would be good for Arsenal to get some rest as well. Especially for Arsenal to rest Alexis. That poor guy has been running non-stop for two years.

For those of you wanting Naveen to do the pre-match analysis, that won’t be happening. As I said last year, Naveen is in school and doesn’t have time to do the match previews like last season. It’s a huge credit to him that he generated dedicated followers but at the same time he is a young man who needs to focus on his studies.

My match preview is somewhat more relaxed and I’ll publish that tomorrow.

And finally, the Wilshere story is, predictably, bringing out the hang-wringing. For some reason, when I saw that story I was completely unfazed. I guess I just see Wilshere as a third choice player in Arsenal’s midfield. He is sort of creative but is not really a direct replacement Ozil because he doesn’t create enough nor does he move enough, he doesn’t seem to be able to play the Cazorla role in CM, and he’s absolutely not a DM (no matter how much I wish he was or how many times he wins MotM for England), so the only place I see him playing is on the left and even then I’d put him behind Ox because Ox is match fit.

The other thing I thought when I saw that he would be out for another six months is “Diaby”. I was  in the stands at Swansea when fans rained down abuse on Diaby. Same with the trip to Anfield when Diaby was subbed on and then subbed off. Somehow Jack has escaped all of this calumny which is good.

But the Diaby comparison is correct in that because he’s spent so much time recovering from various surgeries he’s never been able to grow as a player and frankly, Jack needs to grow as a player. He’s still playing the same way as he has been for years, too many dribbles, and poor dribbling at that, and not enough passing and movement.

I like Jack for his desire to get forward but he lacks the close control that a truly great dribbler has. Instead, he often seems to dribble too far ahead of himself and then sprints to catch up. It’s when he sort of loses control of the ball that the opposition seems to clatter him. To be clear, no one has a right to clatter another player and I still blame Paddy McNair for the injury Jack received last season. But if I was Jack Wilshere, I might consider changing my game a bit.

Not Jack, just this summer, Jack ruled out a change of style. That is, of course, his prerogative but as of right now, I have to think that another 6 month layoff is a huge setback to a young career which is already been ravaged by injury. I don’t know. How many players have we seen ruined at Arsenal because of horrific challenges? Diaby, Wilshere, Eduardo… It seems like fantastic thinking to wish that the Premier League would protect its players by calling fouls and issuing red cards. You don’t have to dribble straight at the Paddy McNair’s of the world — especially if you’re not as good at it as you think you are. I just think he would benefit from less dribbling and more passing: in fact, Jack’s most memorable goals have come from passing moves, not dribbling moves.

Right, we’ll leave it there. Now you can say “Arsenal should have bought” and “the medical staff are a disaster” or “they should have told us earlier” and “I demand a full investigation into this!” But before you lay into the medical staff, remember that when Jack scored against West Brom, he went over and thanked Shad Forsythe.


Whisper it: Arsenal are title challengers

Five games in to the season and Manchester City are running away with the title but after this weekend’s results, Arsenal have climbed into 4th place and stats show that the Gunners are the only other team in the top four who are playing anywhere close to City’s level.

After a contentious summer transfer window in which Arsenal fans were so desperate for a center forward that some fans begged Wenger to buy Rickie Lambert, the supporters probably don’t want to hear it, probably don’t believe it, but their club is putting together some impressive stats at the start of this season.

On the offensive end of the pitch no team has created as many shots as Arsenal, no team has created as many big chances as Arsenal, and no team has created as many shots in prime areas as Arsenal.

People discount shots stats as meaningless, “a team can score without even taking a shot or score on their very first shot and then defend for 90 minutes and take all three points” is the usual argument that we receive. But those are outlying stats. Of course odd things can happen but there is a correlation between shots and goals. In fact, I can predict how many goals a team will score in a season with an R^2 of 0.77 by just using shots stats and the historical rates at which teams convert shots into goals from different positions.

Shot stats aren’t meaningless. Far from it.

But not all shots are created equal: fans love a shot from distance but those shots are converted at a very low 3% rate; shots from “prime” positions, those places in front of the goal from the six yard box to the penalty spot, are converted at a much higher 30% rate; and “big chances”, shots in 1 v. 1 situations with the keeper or from very close to the goal, are converted at an even higher 45% rate. Of course these conversion rates aren’t guarantees but over the long haul those are the rates at which these types of shots are converted. The trick, then, to a season is to get as many shots as you can from the best positions while limiting the opposition to shots from poor positions.

Manchester City are doing just that.

Man City have scored a league leading 11 goals and conceded zero goals so far this season and that record is largely down to the fact that they have created the best chances while limiting the opposition to shots from distance. City have created 12 “big chances” and allowed just 1. They have also created 26 shots in “prime” positions while limiting the opposition to just 10 shots in those same positions.

Second place Leicester City have been the talk of England and some folks are even wondering if Leicester might finish in the top four this season. But Leicester City’s record so far is deceptively good. Leicester have scored 11 goals, just like City, and they are creating good chances for themselves, making 19 shots in prime positions. But they aren’t creating many big chances: they have been awarded 2 penalties, one of which rescued them against Bournemouth, a match in which Leicester took just 4 shots, which accounts for two of their 9 big chances that they have created.

More worrying for Leicester fans is the fact that their defense is porous. Ranieri had Leicester playing wide open and it shows. The Foxes have conceded 7 goals and allowed the opposition to get 21 shots in prime positions. And these aren’t good teams that Leicester are playing against: Sunderland, West Ham, Tottenham, Bournemouth, and Aston Villa are all bottom of the table teams.

City are running away with the title and Leicester are pretenders, where does that leave Arsenal?


Arsenal are tops in the League in big chances created, they are tops in the League in shots in prime positions and they have the best defensive record in the League in terms of shots in prime allowed. The Gunners have conceded 3 goals which is tied for the third best defensive record in the League but two of the goals they conceded came off errors on opening day.

Arsenal’s problem is that they have only scored 3 goals (we don’t count the two own goals here at 7amkickoff) but structurally, Arsenal are doing all of the right things: creating great shots for themselves while limiting the opposition to pot shots.

Arsenal have a cottage industry of people who make a living off whipping the fans into a frenzy over their latest bon mot: whether that’s the idea that Coquelin is limiting Arsenal’s attack, the idea that Arsenal need to move Alexis to the middle, or the idea that Arsenal need to buy Rickie Lambert, it’s all just fluff. Wenger has made a well balanced Arsenal attack and defense and it shows in the stats. 

This weekend, Arsenal get to play Chelsea, their first real test of the season. Mourinho has already said that “Chelsea can win the next match against Arsenal for sure” but according to the numbers, Chelsea have one of the worst defenses in the League and they will be facing the best offense in the League. I wouldn’t be so confident of a win if I was Jose.