Monday, March 1, 2010

Stoke 1-3 Arsenal . . .

Where to start but with the injury to Ramsey. As with the Taylor- Eduardo incident, the most commonly stated fact in the aftermath is that the tackle was not malicious. True. We do see some malicious tackles in England- studs up, over the ball, those are the worst. But this does not absolve Shawcross. As with anything, it's a matter of degrees. This one was not "malicious", but it was also a level above merely "commited".

Recklessness is endemic to the English game. And against Arsenal, the media and British managers have elevated it to a virtue. It is to be commended when it leads to a victory, as it did for Stoke in the corresponding fixture last season. But when it leads to the kind of needless devastation we saw on Saturday, excuses abound.

Last season, indeed, there was little mention of a tackle by a certain Ryan Shawcross, that took place with the ball out of play, that must have been close to breaking Adebayor's ankle. On that occasion, an intent to do some damage was clear. So it's difficult to feel wholehearted sympathy for the defender, especially when he can return to action while Aaron Ramsey sees the long road to recovery stretch endlessly before him.

That said, the reaction to this incident should condemn the culture, not the player. This antiquated aggression is something that the English game needs to rid itself of, because the more quick and skillful players get, the more we will see of these kind of injuries. This neanderthal aesthetic is surely part of the reason for England's continued under-achieving at international level, but most of the press and pundits would prefer cling to it, and instead moralise over comparitive trivialities like diving, spitting, imaginary card-waving.

Sure, it is a physical sport, and yes, the pace and power of the Premiership is what renders it uniquely entertaining. But there is a line that is too consistently crossed, and as Wenger and Fabregas say, it is no coincidence that it keeps happening against Arsenal.

There is a xenophobic aspect to this aswell. Arsenal are not the only attacking team in the Premiership. But they're the only team who are systemically subjected to such rough treatment. Sir Alex wouldn't stand for it for a second, but Allardyce, Pulis and his other minions would never risk his wrath by even trying it against United. I remember all those years when Allardyce's Bolton were kicking lumps out of Arsenal, they would never do more than bend over for Man Utd. And then when Megson took over and told Kevin Davies to assault Patrice Evra in his first game, Ferguson was fucking apoplectic on the touchline. Welcome to our world.

On to the game. Our continued, debilitating lack of defensive prowess was again predictably exposed early, but character was on show this time. Bendtner scored a brilliant header, showing what having a tall, physical player up front can do for us. And then, after the injury and the red card, the ghosts of Birmingham two years ago were laid to rest as this time the climax was positive. A debatable enough penalty slotted in by Fabregas, returning to form. And Vermaelen scoring from the same player's typically clever cut-back. Job done, very late on; cue plenty of fist-pumping and a huddle at the final whistle. If McFadden's late penalty two years ago convinced the players that it wasn't to be their title, maybe this is the opposite.

I have questioned these players, and the manager, a lot. I still think those questions remain. I don't think any fan asks for him to put the financial safety of the club at risk. But this has transpired to be a great chance to win the title, and we are quite simply not in the best possible position because the manager has refused to spend even a small amount of money on problem positions in the squad. Some do have faith in these players, that if they are kept together, we will see success. I'm not sure of that but a strong end to the season, even if it does not end in a trophy, would of course be a step in the right direction. That said, I don't think we will see another season in which the competition has been so weak, and it is our inability to grasp the possibilities of the moment, in favour of hypothesising about the future, that I fear may prove fatal in more seasons to come.

But now is a time to be positive, as the players showed their mettle in what was a massive moment. Ten games to go and, against all my expectations, we're in with a shot.

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