3 players in 4 years, 3 different tackles, 3 different reasons, all the same result, all the same culprit.
Dan Smith from Sunderland was the first break an Arsenal player’s leg in the modern era when he did Abou Diaby in the 90th minute of a match that Arsenal was winning 3-0. Dan Smith’s tackle was, at the least, reckless and many would even say malicious. Smith was given a yellow card by Dermott Gallagher for his work and after, Sunderland’s manager said:
Yes, it isn’t an injury you want to see happen to a player. But he went for the ball and the player passed it quicker than Dan could get there. In my opinion, I felt Dan Smith did go for the ball and the lad knocked it away and he accidentally caught him.
This is a criticism you will see repeated as we go on; Arsenal are just too quick and besides which, the other guy just went for the ball, it’s hardly even a foul they will say, much less a yellow card.
Dan Smith played the next day while Diaby was out for 6 months and has never fully recovered. Many people point to his trail of niggling injuries in the aftermath as evidence that the player’s career was essentially cut short by a reckless challenge in the dying minutes of a meaningless game.
At the time, Wenger decried the tackle saying that the referee was the only person who didn’t see the tackle as a red card. He’d be wrong about that last bit, by the way.
That injury was followed by a horrific challenge by “Tiny” Taylor on Eduardo in the opening minutes of a relatively important League match. That match is the starkest in my memory where the manager came out before the match and admitted that teams kick Arsenal and that they wanted to emulate the Bolton’s and Blackburn’s who “get up Arsenal’s noses” by playing them rough. After the match, Alex McLeish was quick to defend his player saying:
Martin is absolutely gutted. Eduardo was just too quick for him. I didn’t think it was malicious. He has come down on his ankle with studs and his standing foot is in the turf, and that can make the injury much worse. People in the game know Martin, and I’m sure he will get their support because he’s hurting. Martin would always go for the ball honestly.
A new wrinkle is added to the story; we kick because we have to, Arsenal are just too quick, and now they are just honest lads, they don’t mean to end a player’s career.
The other bit of follow-up that happened across the country was this pervasive notion by several managers that Taylor’s tackle wasn’t even a foul with Steve Bruce issuing the definitive statement on the incident for many:
Martin Taylor is the biggest, gentlest man, there will be nobody more upset and sickened than him, there is not a bad bone in his body. He would never, ever do anything malicious. He has mis-timed the tackle, and I’ve seen it. Some would say it is not even a yellow card.
Eduardo has still not really recovered from Taylor’s tackle, still suffering small injuries and setbacks and despite it being two years on is only sporadically able to feature for Arsenal.
And today we have this horrific tragedy to the third Arsenal player in 4 years as Ryan Shawcross had come in recklessly and simply done the 19 year old Welshman. Shawcross left the pitch in tears, no doubt upset about what he had done and much like the person who recklessly drinks and drives only to find out he has harmed someone I’m sure he has true regret. Regret’s the least we can expect from him, he’s a human being after all and not a monster like Joey Barton.
Tony Pulis takes a familiar line in defense of his player, immediately after the match, saying:
It is a bad challenge but I know Shawcross, I signed him as a 19-year-old. He has got no bad blood in him whatsoever and there is no way in a million years he would ever go out to hurt anybody. I really mean that.Everyone else at this football club sends their condolences on the incident, we wish him well for a speedy recovery and as a fellow Welshman I am devastated. But Ryan has come off the pitch broken-hearted, met his mum straightaway and gone straight home.
Maybe in a sense we’re seeing a change, 5 years ago the challenge wasn’t a yellow, 3 years ago it wasn’t a red, and now, it’s finally a bad challenge. But frustratingly, the familiar old ghosts are there; Shawcross is a good lad, let’s not get too down on him.
And here’s the thing: I don’t. I don’t blame him, just like I didn’t blame Taylor, ultimately. Sure, the individual shoulders some blame, he doesn’t have to go in high and hard in a 50-50, or worse, studs up, like Taylor did. I blame the footballing establishment which refuses to join the 21st century.
I blame the writers who pen articles with titles like “Taylor backed to recover from Eduardo tackle.” I blame the knucklehead fans who glorify “full-blooded” football over 21st century ball movement and goal-scoring. I blame the managers who take English kids and turn them into talentless leg-breaking hacks. How many injuries would it take before Ryan Shawcross made the Spanish national team?
But I lay ultimate blame for this third broken leg for an Arsenal youngster in four years on the FA and their inability to create competent match officials who referee the game the same for everyone. I say it’s incompetence because, like Wenger, the other opinion, corruption, is almost unthinkable.
I have been on about this last problem all year as teams come out and tell the world that they are going to foul Arsenal, proceed to foul them all over the pitch, and then call Arsenal for small fouls when they try to kick back. The City match away was the worst example up till this point, with Adebayor barely adjudged to have put a foot wrong during the match despite the match official seen on video watching as he scraped his studs down Robin van Persie’s face.
Today’s match, though, is where this philosophy reached its zenith. Song was pulled and punched in the back of the head for shielding Delap from the ball, and it was Song who got a yellow card — he’ll reportedly serve a 2 match ban for that being his 10th yellow. When the score was tied, Stoke committed as clear a penalty on Aaron Ramsey as I have seen all season; it was a no-call that I think changed the game. Had Arsenal gone up 2-1 at that point (which they deserved) it would have opened the game up a bit and might have prevented the type of challenge that Shawcross felt he needed to commit in order to keep their share of the points. But Shawcross did go for the ball, full blooded. No doubt goaded on by his manager at half-time to “get stuck in.” But also given free reign by the match official, Peter Walton, after he saw his teammates kick and cheat their was into the game.
When the FA allow teams to simply kick technically proficient sides like Arsenal off the pitch there are consequences. Let’s hope today’s consequence isn’t the end of 19 year old Aaron Ramsey’s bright career.