Monday 1 March 2010

A touch of balance

Its been an emotional 36 hours since poor Aaron Ramsey broke his leg. And in the midst of that furore its been somewhat forgotten that we overall played quite well at Stoke and got a vital 3 points. Out of nowhere we are now suddenly in touching distance of the top of the table. Its a remarkable game.

A lot has been said about Rambo's injury and there has been a lot of heat in the argument. I hope that the following short recap might give everyone pause for thought. As usual (well, sometimes at least!) this blog will try and give both sides of the story.

The starting place is obviously that the injury to Rambo was horrific. And that the fact it happens to a 19 year old creative midfielder is hard to take. From an Arsenal perspective, you then think back to the horrific injury suffered by Eduardo at Birmingham, to Diaby's broken ankle at Bolton, to Shawcross' tackle on Adebayor last season. All of those factors have to make you think that something is not right.

On the other hand, and this is where it gets more difficult for Arsenal fans to be objective at the moment, you have to ask yourself the question - just how bad was Shawcross' tackle? Its very hard to avoid the temptation to simply point straight at the resulting injury and say "horrific". But to do that is not to address the question. Instead, I think you need to look at a variety of factors, including:

(1) whether the player leaves the ground with one, or both feet? I.e. is it a 'jump-tackle'?
(2) whether the foot is raised to expose the studs?
(3) the amount of force used in the tackle?
(4) whether the tackling leg is straight or bent?

Probably some others could be added to that list. It would need someone with a lot more experience of broken bones than me to tell us - and 1979Gooner is well qualified on that front. But my point is that a lot of factors should be completely excluded, such as:

(a) he is not that sort of player,
(b) he was trying to play the ball,
(c) he loves his mother and only occasionally shags around, or
(d) he broke someone else's leg last week.

The reason why you must exclude the above factors are because they are irrelevant to answering the question of "how dangerous was the tackle"? In particular, the issue of the players' intentions is irrelevant. The issue is how dangerous were your actions, not your state of mind. However, it is obvious from most of the press, media and blogging community reaction that its really only issues (a) to (d) above that people want to talk about.

The "he is not that sort of player" issue is particularly divisive, but it is also very revealing. Its an excuse used by the attacker to appeal to alleged general perception that his past conduct is good and should be used to appease current views of what he has just done. But its a double-edged sword, because any Arsenal fan with enough time on Youtube will be able to point to a large number of incidents that would demonstrate that Ryan Shawcross is exactly "that sort of player". So the issue simply does not take us anywhere.

The more revealing angle is, perhaps, that the idea of a "sort of player" shows that we have presupposed conception of what standards of behaviour are expected on the pitch. Not purely in the sense of the FIFA regulations, or FA's useless directions, but more in the sense of how footballers should behave towards each other, and what we, as fans, want to see from our players.

I have posted long and hard on this blog that Arsenal have too many lightweight players, that the Invincibles were bigger, stronger and tougher than our brand of midgets midfeiders. Now, I am not for one mili-second saying that Vieira would not have been injured if faced by the tackle that Shawcross made. But I am of the school of thought that says football is a contact sport, that requires motivation, strength and commitment from its players in order to be successful.

And its not just Stoke that play a physical brand of football. The hilarious spat between Rafa Benitez and Sam Allardyce (or Clogger v Clogger) is testimony to what Fat Sam has been doing for years, and the scars will remain at Bolton for years. Even teams who historically play 'attractive football' such as Newcastle, are still tainted by the preferred methods of the players signed by Fat Sam - step forward Mr Kevin Nolan or Mr Joey Barton.

But it doesn't stop there. Chelsea stopped playing football when they replaced Gianluca Viali with Jose Mourinho, who spent a Russian fortune on players like Drogba, Ballack, Carvalho, Essien and Mikel. His passing interest in ball-players was always a disaster - Robben and Wright-Phillips soon learned that they would have to look elsewhere.

The same could be said of Liverpool, where Gerrard, Mascherano and Carragher routinely make tackles that make Shawcross' look tame. And in many ways Manure have quietly perfected the assassins creed. Paul Scholes must have made more bad tackles in his career than Shawcross has had hot dinners. Sir Demento routinely played Phil Neville or John O'Shea in midfield against Arsenal for no other reason that to go to war with Vieira.

And thats a difficult one for me. Because I loved watching those games. I loved the way that Vieira, Keown, Lauren played football. And Lauren was a dirty, dirty player when he wanted to be. I remember watching Flamini take Nani out two-footed in a tackle that took man, ball, advertising hoardings and about the first three rows of old trafford with him. It was the moment I realised Flamini was fit to play for Arsenal in central midfield and to wear the boots of Vieira and Petit.

But reading a lot of the comments that have been made over the last 36 hours, it seems that the idea of heavy and committed tackling should be banned from football. And maybe that is the right view - particularly when you see the injury to Aaron Ramsey. Maybe it is a price that is simply not worth paying.

And that is because I do not see how you can play committed physical football and also avoid the risk of injury in the manner that poor Ramsey suffered. If you go back to my list of dangerous factors in the tackle made by Shawcross, the only one I count against him is number (3) the amount of force used in the tackle, which was excessive, but probably only marginally so.

That said, its probably overall a question of balance. There are too many genuinely bad tackles being made, and it would be a good thing if the FA was to actually crack down on them. What is required, however, is for some brave referees to start sending Mascherano and Gerrard off at Anfield. Maybe we should encourage them by applauding (the generally reviled) Mike Dean for giving Ballack his second yellow at Stamford Bridge on Saturday? The campaign starts here.


Anonymous said...

Lots of talk when one's own player breaks a leg, but much less when an opponent suffers.
The mis-tackle was innocent enough and if it was a Manchester or Chelsea player, the Arsenal mob wouldn't care less. They'd be happy in fact, judging by comments read when Ashley Cole broke his ankle a week or two ago!
Bad luck to the player involved and let's hope he recovers well. But reading what you lot have to say here about the state of the game is laughable.

Anonymous said...

One of the many questions you are missing is: "When a player has clearly lost control of the ball and an oopponent is likely to beat him to the ball by sheer dint of being physically closer to it, is the former player entitled to swing his leg with the force you might usually use for a thirty yard free kick, and in so doing delay the point at which his feet is timed to make contact with the ball, or should he realise that a slide tackle not relying on backlift of the tackling foot will get him there sooner"? I posit that the difference between a professional and an amateur footballer ought at least to be in part due to eye-foot coordination, possession of which would have told Shawcross that he couldn't get there sooner with the former type of challenge. Assuming he is in possession of this, what he did can only be seen as at the best best due to his poor judgement. Which makes him a perfect canidate to play for England along wit al the other serial adulterers, drug takers and assault and batterers.
By all means try to offer balance, but don't just agree with the supine media without thinking it through..

Anonymous said...

Stoke supporter here. Brilliant blog and bang on the money.

I don't disagree that it was a foolish challenge but in the main it was an unlucky incident.

Best wishes to Ramsey.

Anonymous said...

Erm just a wee point, diaby broke his ankle against Sunderland.

ReZnuK said...

The other point you missed is the frequency of such challenges. Simple probability tells you that if you make 1 'heavy' challenge in a game, then you'd be unlucky to cause an injury - but if you frequently make such challenges, then the probability of causing an injury at least once, increases dramatically. That applies not just to one player (where you'll see frequent heavy tackles less often) but more to a whole team. When a whole team makes heavy tackles (because they've been encouraged, nay told, to go in harder) then the likelihood of injury is increased. I believe that is more of a factor than anything to do with Ryan Shawcross himself.

p.s. to the first 'anonymous' comment - you're right and you're wrong. Fans can be a right hypocritical bunch, and many people would like to hear about Cole being injured. But nobody, seriously, wants to *see* an injury *that bad*, even to Cashley Cole.

Ted said...

yes. Sorry. Dan Smith of Sunderland did Diaby's ankle. Not Bolton.

Ted said...

ReZnuk - yes, I agree. I think that is what I was trying to say at the end of the post. I don't want tackling to be banned, but the number of heavy tackles in the game at the moment means that injuries like Ramsey will happen every now and again.

Godge said...

I don't think that you can discount the fact that he has previously broken an opponent's leg. I would suggest that it is very unusual for a player (especially a 22-year old) to have broken more than one opponent's leg.

The fact that he has previous suggests a number of possibilities:

(1) The quality of coaching at Stoke is so poor that he hasn't been taught to tackle correctly
(2) Either he or his team consistently go out to tackle like that

You also cannot discount his character. It has been suggested that he has a short fuse. Again, the tackle on Adebayor last season when the ball was already out gives credence to that suggestion. Others have pointed to him being robbed of the ball earlier in the game by Fabregas and reacting badly. Again, temperament is not something that is unchanging. Good coaches can work on it.

To sum up, Mr. Shawcross is not the innocent painted in many quarters but a heavier blame has to be laid on Pulis and the Stoke coaches who have not worked on the flaws identified by his previous history.

A ten-match ban would be suitable to allow him to reflect and for some serious coaching (though whether Pulis is capable of that is another thing). It won't happen because he is one of the options for the English World Cup team and needs to play.

Shard said...

Once again 1979, tackling is also a technique and indeed quite fascinating to watch. But irresponsible tackling does not show commitment. I agree there's a thin line but yet countries like spain and italy manage to largely stay within it and Germany as well( which i keep going back to cos the german league is quick and committed as well).

You are right though that the FA and refs have to clamp down on this. We can but hope (though im not very hopeful)

Shard said...

Godge is right. Anyone who plays for the English team enjoys some immunity from any action against them.

Shard said...

Correction..Once again as i told 1979...

Unknown said...

I saw the images several times and honestly it seams a misfortuned event more than an intentional one. They both tryed to play the ball. That's what I think anyway.

Regardless the intensity I just hope Ramsey can recover as fast as possible.

A similar thing happened a few years ago on a Benfica-Porto match, involving Katsouranis and Anderson (now playing in Man Utd).

All the best to Arsenal for what's left to play. And, by the way, I hope you guys can defeat porto in the CL.

A Benfica fan,
Luis Filipe

Anonymous said...


while u are being more rational than 1979 you are still not getting through to me when 'confuse' hard (sometimes rash) challenges as committed. Are you telling me that continental players are not committed enough to win the ball??
do us a favour and try to see where we are coming from too.

keep writing..

Anonymous said...

posted this on the the post before

Xavi Alonso took out cesc last year in a similar challenge. his intention was to give the ball the john smith "ave it" treatment(maybe he learned from carragher) in the middle of midfield after over running the ball.

similar to what happened to ramsey.
The guy lost control of the ball, seen ramsey was equally favorite to win it - ramsey tries to poke the ball away from him - shawcross then goes in to give the ball the john smith "ave it" treatment and was slightly late causing the impact injury.
He came in with excessive force and was in no way the same as gallas on the bolton player.

playing semi/pro football and even in the amature leagues skillfull technical teams are kicked of the park as a way of leveling the playing field. this outdated tactic belongs in the 60's - football has evolved majorly since then but the same outdated managers/coaches/pundits believe this tactic is effective hence the make up of their teams.


marcus said...

This blog has been a huge disappointment in reaction to this incident. VitalArsenal's take is much better:


"It is misleading to say that anyone is seriously claiming that the Shawcross tackle was malicious or made with the intent to break Ramsey's leg but it was most definitely made 'in a manner considered to be careless, reckless or using excessive force' to use the laws of the game. What was Shawcross trying to do? Certainly not win possession of the ball as many claim. He tried to launch the ball and anything in its orbit into the stands. There is no need to make a tackle of that nature at anytime but certainly not against a player 5 yards inside his own half."

The piece goes on to compare and contrast the Gallas' tackle (for which he was villified in the media) v. Shawcross' (for which he's getting tons of sympathy).

Why is it that no one here can understand the basic laws of the game:

Shawcross specializes in tackles that are 'in a manner considered to be careless, reckless or using excessive force' which are AGAINST the rules.

He's brutalized Ade, Jeffers and Cronaldo with full-blooded, full-force, out-of-control, wild tackles (unlike Gallas') repeatedly -- THAT IS THE POINT!

And btw, I condemn this kind of tackle against ANY player.

1979gooner said...

It's been an interesting couple of days banter.

I agree with Ted's balanced article, very well written.

There are degrees of recklessness and Shawcross was at about a 3/10 for me, he deserved a red because he went in so hard but it wasn't that bad, by 'that bad' I mean compared to what we see week in week out that is far more reckless.

I agree with the comments that we need to start introducing extra retrospective bans for the really bad tackles.

For example Nani's two footed one the other week should have led to a six/nine game ban, it was so so reckless.

The problem with clamping down is it requires a sensible interpretation of what is reckless and what is not, that's why it's better that this is done retrospectively.

If it's left to refs that it will lead to more soft red cards being given just based on the rolling around of the player tackled, fair tackles that were only just mistimed and not at all dangerous will start being over punished and this is bad for the game.

Overall refs are getting better, but we need more refs who understand the game better, refs who know what is fair and mistimed, what is cynical and what is downright dangerous even if it wins the ball.

Wankers like Graham Poll sum up what is wrong with some refs, limelight seeking tossers who only know the words and rules, they lack any common sense and real wholistic understanding of football.

Interestingly listeing to some sensible debate on this on Radio 5 tonight and the general opinion is that shawcross was reckless to a degree , but not that dangerous with his tackle, it was hard and mistimed. It seems that Ted is about spot on with the general feeling in the sensible areas of the media.

I also agree with a lot of the opinion on here about the need for consistency in nailing these reckless tackles, players like Gerrard need to see red whenever they stamp down with a straight leg and studs up, the same for Terry and Rooney et al. We meed consistency in the media and from the refs.

Obsinho said...

We're not going to get consistency in the media, sogive up on that one. It is remarkable how Shawcross' treatment differs to that of Nani, Gallas and many others. I'd like to see a rational explanation of why in one of the better journalists.

Equally refs are not going to get more consistent. For too much of the game players do their best to con them, making it harder for them to make the right call. Players have to help themselves too.

So I think we need to look to the FA. Certainly not a beacon of consistency or rational thought, but the only body able to actually effect a change. And obliged to effect a change. Gooners aren't whining from wanting change, just speaking from an unfortunate position of experience. If other teams had lost 3 players in 3 years to such tackles they would react similarly. Yes our response originates in selfish desires to protect our own, but I believe it is motivated by a desire to not see any other players of any team suffer the same pain.

I doubt very strongly that the FA even give a shit. Sadly the fact that Shawcross got a call up probably does mean he won't face further punishment. But maybe, just maybe, the FA will act so that the next player to break someones leg, be it intentionally, through recklessness or pure bad luck, gets a lengthy ban. Maybe the threat of such punishment alone will mean it never needs to be meted out.

Anyway, the damage has been done so let's move on from that aspect. Instead let's see if we can actually motivate some change. Any ideas?

Arthur said...

I think it is relevant to look at the mindset of players who play against Arsenal. Sure, we can engage in a totally positive analysis of the tackle and say that it was simply unfortunate (in fact, one of the factors you forgot to mention was how high the foot was off the ground-even though studs were not showing, if you keep your tackling foot on the ground, you're not going to break any legs). But players who play against Arsenal are told to channel their commitment into slightly more aggression than they would against other teams (apparently, Arsenal don't like it-guess what, no team or player likes it and Aaron certainly did not) to throw the team off their game. Now that's fine, if it remains within the rules but you're bound to get a skewed distribution of challenges with a penchant for more dangerous tackles when playing against Arsenal, particularly if it is encouraged by the media and coaching staff. Sooner or later, one of the challenges will be of the kind that got Diaby, Eduardo and now Ramsey. In that sense, the media does have blood on its hands and so does Shawcross. A popular analogy that I think is relevant is the one of reckless driving: the driver does not mean to kill a child but his state of mind (i.e. his negligence as to the potential consequences of his fast driving) is relevant-if you constantly drive fast (i.e. that is your attitude) you are as likely to injure a pedestrian as an overtly aggressive footballer is likely to injure a fellow professional even if that wasn't his intention. The FA has to do something to make sure that the (normal) distribution of dangerous challenges is shifted back towards a point where a leg is broken every 20 years, not 3 in 4 years for 1 club.

Today, Stoke chairman Peter Coates has come out saying that these things just happen in football and you have to accept them. You certainly don't and Arsenal fans should not.

Ted said...

Thanks for the comments above, the majority of which are very good.

It seems that most people who disagree with me are mainly interested in Stoke's training methods (I have no idea how they know how Tony Pulis coaches) or want to look at Shawcross' previous misdemeanours or his state of mind (which are irrelevant when judging what he did on saturday.

Its fair enough if you disagree!