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.