Malice is NOT the Issue

By on February 28, 2010

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Yesterday was an important moment in the development of this Arsenal side. Before the game, but after the Chelsea result, I was chatting with J. Sanderson of Young Guns, and we both believed that, after Chelsea’s loss, this was the most important league fixture we’d played in a few years. Only a few minutes later, Arsenal were down 1-nil to a Delap throw-in. It looked like deja vu all over again. But a magnificent header by Bendtner got us back into it and from the 30th minute on, Arsenal turned in a paradigm-shifting performance.

On BBC Match of the Day, Alan Shearer said that Arsenal had “answered a few questions.” Even Alan Hansen was so impressed that he actually uttered the phrase, “I’m becoming an Arsenal fan.” It was THAT kind of performance. The stage was set for a disaster. We’d lost our lost four league trips to Stoke-on-Trent and hadn’t had a lead there in 28 years. The Chelsea loss only increased the pressure sevenfold.

But even after conceding to an early Delap throw-in, Arsenal refused to lay down and die. Yesterday, we saw a glimpse of the future of this side. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the new Arsenal… A team that can be as physical as they need to be without sacrificing their footballing style. We got stuck in, we challenged hard for every ball, shut Stoke down in the midfield, and were quick to turn dispossessions into attacks. And, after having a blatant penalty shout on Ramsey denied, finally broke the deadlock in the 91st minute. Another, even more blatant shout was denied on Bendtner, before Cesc and Vermaelen sealed the deal.

Stoke had two points to their gameplan yesterday: 1) Get as physical as the referee will seem to allow  2) Try to get as many throw-ins as possible. And that was it.The fact is that Arsenal matched Stoke’s physicality throughout the entire match and didn’t crumble after the tackle. They also limited Stoke’s throw-ins for the final sixty minutes. That took away Tony Pulis’ entire tactical plan. A cynical off-the-ball challenge on Fabregas after the second goal and on Bendtner in the box showed that Stoke had run out of ideas.

Anti-Arsenal Tactics

I don’t necessarily believe it’s a case of managers telling their players to go out and hurt Arsenal. But the league itself creates the problem. With so much money at stake for bottom-half clubs fighting relegation, negative tactics have become the norm in the Premier League. The gulf between 3rd place and 15th place in the Premier League may as well be a league apart.

Teams of that caliber simply cannot match top 5 teams on footballing terms and, because they are fighting for the very life of their club, they easily fall back on playing negative football. Add in to that Arsenal’s style and the false characterization of Arsenal not liking it “up ‘em” and you have the current situation.

As for the “punditry,” the denial goes on. Before the last meeting at the Brittania Stadium, Ricardo Fuller, a striker no less, came out in the papers talking about how Stoke planned to rough Arsenal up. Yet pundits continue to deny that teams take a decidedly more physical approach with Arsenal than other sides. I imagine that nothing can really be done about teams attempting to disrupt Arsenal with an overly physical style from the league’s perspective. But, just once, I would like to hear the league and the pundits admit that that is what is going on here.

The Tackle

Whether Shawcross felt bad after the fact has no bearing on the situation. The fact is he came in recklessly high. What did he think was going to be the result of a challenge like that? After the Eduardo incident, no one can feign surprise at the outcome of a tackle of that sort. And to hear a delusional Stoke supporter on 606 right after the match claiming that Shawcross didn’t deserve the red card because “there was no malice in the tackle” and thought the challenge warranted “a booking, perhaps” was just ridiculous.

“Malice” is not the issue. It doesn’t matter whether Shawcross’s challenge was malicious or not. It was reckless. THAT is what needs to be rooted out of the game, not malice. Players need to know that if they aren’t thinking about the challenge they are going to make that they can pay a heavy price.

Some have called for Shawcross to be banned for as long as Ramsey is out. I did the same after the Eduardo tackle. If players knew they would suffer the same repercussions as the victim of their reckless tackle, they would think twice about the kind of challenges they make. Plain and simple. I’m sorry but a 3-match ban for a tackle that puts a player out for a year is just not right. The longer the league continues to ignore it, the more they are to blame when incidents like this happen.

With that said, I don’t feel quite the same ill will towards Shawcross as I did towards Taylor two years ago. First of all, Shawcross wasn’t smiling after the challenge. Second, it was a 50/50 ball, unlike Taylor’s despicable “tackle” on Eduardo.

At the same time, anyone who claims the player has “no history” of foul play obviously doesn’t remember him breaking Francis Jeffers’ ankle or taking Adebayor out for almost a month last season in a match which saw Adebayor, Gallas, and Walcott all injured for multiple weeks from Stoke tackles. That’s a lot of incidents for such a young player, especially one that alledgedly has “no history.”

The other important question is: why does this happen to Arsenal? Richard Keys’ assertions that it is because of Arsenal’s quick style is tantamount to saying that it is OUR OWN FAULT. That is disgraceful. As was the Stoke supporters singing, “He’s only got one leg.”

The Response

After bossing the first 18 minutes of the second half, and really looking like getting the go-ahead goal, the tackle sucked the wind out of what was otherwise a very entertaining and hard-fought match. We looked like suffering the same fate as Birmingham two years ago. Clichy realized the danger there and tried rallying Vermaelen, who looked devastated by Ramsey’s injury. The entire side looked absolutely distraught. No one could have truly faulted them had they failed to get the 3 points.

But this side dug in and delivered when we needed it most and when circumstances had made it the hardest it could be. We saw a togetherness and a spirit in the side that had been questioned after each of the defeats to Chelsea and United. The celebrations and huddle at center-pitch following the match reminded me of the spirit the team we had in 2007-08 before the Eduardo injury when we led the league by 5 points.

Just as intoxicating was the unbridled enthusiasm of Sol Campbell. Here is a man who has been given an unexpected second chance to play at the very top level and he KNOWS it. And his spirit and enthusiasm is infectious. We saw it running through the entire team yesterday.

After the match, Cesc’s anger was evident, as you can see in the interview below. And who can blame him? How many times do we have to see something like this happen to our players before, at the very least, the game’s caretakers admit that it is an issue?

Now, following Chelsea’s two demoralizing defeats in the past 5 days occasioned by their defensive woes and United’s continued over-reliance on Rooney and own goals for their scoring, the door to the title, cracked at noon, was swung wide open by 7:30pm.

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  1. Mustang

    February 28, 2010 at 5:34 am

    Unfortunately the FA or premier league will not do anything about these types of tackles if it keeps happening to Arsenal or non-English players. I wonder what the reaction would be if this leg break was Rooney or Gerard???

  2. Janno

    February 28, 2010 at 5:37 am

    A seriously good article that deserves wider appreciation and review by those so-called pundits that influence the agenda.

  3. ael

    February 28, 2010 at 5:43 am

    get a petition to sign! let’s stop waiting for the fa to react. more than arsenal fans will sign it.

  4. Rich

    February 28, 2010 at 6:00 am

    Lets get a petition to sign the FA will do nothing.

  5. 26may1989

    February 28, 2010 at 6:02 am

    Very, very good article, well done. I made some of these points re Ramsey/Shawcross in a post to a Stoke fans’ website but this summarises the points more effectively.

    Don’t know if anyone else would like to do so, but I’ve also mailed Arsenal to say they should be campaiging with the FA and the EPL to have referees actually enforce the rules and get rid of these overphysical, out of date and dangerous tactics. I don’t see why we aren’t trying to sort the problem out at source, i.e. getting referees to change their view of these tactics, which every now and again are bound to result in injuries like these.

    The lesson of Ramsey, Eduardo and Diaby is that the game is now too fast and too technical to allow these tactics to continue. If anyone doubts there is a real problem, ask yourself two questions: why does this happen to Arsenal players more than anyone else and why don’t these sorts of injuries happen in other leagues as often?

  6. sebjob

    February 28, 2010 at 6:53 am

    I was impressed with the team’s response against the physical committed game of Stoke, and as well the maturity after the horrible tackle. Because that is in fact what it was, no tears or words can change that, it was a reckless challenge. I do think Shawcross should be forgiven though. But the fact is that the tackle came after the referee laid the bar very

    • sebjob

      February 28, 2010 at 6:54 am

      …high and strangely inconsistent. With the referee allowing such a physical game heads can easily be heated, as with Shawcross. I think a lot of people who get heated and act violently will regret afterwards

  7. David

    February 28, 2010 at 6:53 am

    Fantastic article! When you referred to the clown on 606, add Alan Green to that assessment as what he said about Wenger needing to button his comments is a disgrace. Why the BBC give him so much more air-time compared to the more thoughtful and measured Mike Ingham is beyond me.

    • ArsenalStation

      February 28, 2010 at 10:47 am

      You are exactly right, David. Green’s comments along with the BBC’s commentator, Simon Brotherton, during the post-match interview were disgraceful. He repeated Wenger’s comment to Tony Pulis but made it seem as if he had disparaged Shawcross when in fact Wenger had only criticized the tackle itself as being “horrendous.”

      • David

        February 28, 2010 at 11:11 am

        Cheers ArsenalStation. We should have known that poor Ryan does not have a bad bone in his body – despite his history of appalling ‘tackles’, or should that be assaults? But it is only Arsenal whinging so nothing will be done to curb rash challenges – until such a tackle is committed on an England stalwart such as Gerrard or Rooney.

        • ArsenalStation

          February 28, 2010 at 11:22 am

          Sadly, you are exactly right, David. If Rooney was the victim of that tackle and was gonna be out for the World Cup, there’d be a huge outcry and some acknowledgment from the League, at least.

  8. Vicky

    February 28, 2010 at 7:13 am

    Well written article. Agree totally. Apart from the ban, the player should not be paid for the entire ban duration for such tackles. Even sponsorship money should not be given

    There is something very ridiculous. I am from India and have started following the Premier league about 7-8 years ago. There is a pattern, you announce to the world on kicking Arsenal and it becomes an Insurance policy in the game against your fouls. Song’s yellow card was comical if nothing less, in the shoulder to shoulder game, the stoke player (forgetting his name) had held Song’s arm in underside of his shoulder so that it looked prolonged push. What was the linesman doing there!!

    • ArsenalStation

      February 28, 2010 at 10:48 am

      It was on Delap that Song got his yellow card. Considering that yellow card, the two missed penalties, the uncalled cynical foul on Cesc, and you have a shocker from the referee, Peter Walton. An absolute shocker.

  9. Bryce

    February 28, 2010 at 8:22 am

    This whole ‘Shawcross is a saint, his mum drove him home, he was in tears’ rubbish is appalling. Who is lying in a hospital bed this morning? Who’s career is in jeopardy? If Sidibe made the challenge would the nation feel ‘sorry’ for him?

    If Mother Teresa made that challenge, she should have been booked for 6 months. Add that to the fact that Stoke are a renowned team of thugs, clearly motivated by their manager, Pulis, to ‘rough’ Arsenal up – and you have a clear path to what happened yesterday. An utter disgrace.

  10. Billy

    February 28, 2010 at 8:39 am

    Ryan Shawcross is the same person who broke Francis Jeffers’s ankle with a tackle from behind in 2007. He nearly broke Adebayor’s ankle when he wasn’t even on the pitch in our match with them last year and nearly broke Cesc’s foot in the cup match a couple of months ago.
    He’s a thug and went into that tackle recklessly high and with completely unnecessary force. He had one aim and that was to get the ball but hit Aaron as hard as he could in doing so. He may not have necessarily wanted to break his leg but he certainly wanted to leave his “mark”.
    He’s a disgusting individual but once again its not his fault cause he loves his mum, has no previous and wouldnt hurt a fly. B******t.
    Get well soon Aaron. It’s a pity your not ably to play because off a thug not the innocent, honest English professional he is portrayed.

  11. gun2you

    February 28, 2010 at 9:16 am

    Shawcross claims ”no malice” in tackle

    Why do people always claim – No Malice -
    when they break Arsenal’s players’ legs?

    Can a drunk claims “No Malice” when he or she drive and breaks someone’s legs and then do not have to go to jail? Cry and show a little tear and that’s it.

    They know what they are doing – going into challenges hard and reckless like that. They know all they get is mebbe 4 match ban…..

    By the way – Can i break your leg, Mr. Shawcross and I promise I will do it without malice, please!

    I feel sick. Pray and hope that Ramsey will get well soon.

    • ArsenalStation

      February 28, 2010 at 10:50 am

      Exactly my point, gun2you. Well said.

      If you remember the tackle on Adebayor last year, he slid in from behind while the ball had already gone out of play and the entire contact he made with Ade was over the touchline. Disgraceful.

  12. Kipmonster

    February 28, 2010 at 9:28 am

    I don’t believe that Shawcross had intention in his mind to inflict the severe injury on Ramsey as I don’t also believe that Taylor of Birmingham & Smith of Sunderland had such an intention in the incidents of Eduardo & Diaby. The horrific injuries are however a symptom of an attitude by opponents to ‘get stuck in to Arsenal’ & physically intimidate Arsenal. Tony Pulis can stoutly defend his player & attack Arsene Wenger publicly &whilst being supported by the anti Arsenal media in contrast to Arsene Wenger who is not allowed to defend his players & /or his club’s position whilst having to endure a favourite game of the media …… ‘ Savage Wenger & Arsenal ‘. Wenger the ‘only’ biased & ‘one eyed’ manager in the game, the ‘only’ manager who fails to see his own players indiscretions. From today onwards we are going to hear about the ‘saintly’ Shawcross who ……. doesn’t have a bad bone in his body, looks after his Gran, does great charity work & is an unfortunate all round good guy !! This is incidentally the same Shawcross who last season unnecessarily put in a nasty tackle on Adebayor who had moved off the pitch which resulted in injury that meant several weeks absence. NO malice though don’t forget !!
    As Tony Pulis strongly defends his player, why shouldn’t he himself take some blame as no doubt he would have fired up his players in the changing room to get at Arsenal & you can imagine Peter Reid foaming at the mouth in similar vein.
    That however is not as much fun for the media as going after Arsenal & Wenger & fair enough too as his fellow managers are such lovely & ‘fair guys’ !!
    Ferguson runs his press conferences in Stalinist style, eliminating ‘enemies’ from them who dare say or write a negative word. He is still indulged though by for example Sky TV who after having their reporters banned before Carling Cup Semi Final 2nd leg, still gave him airtime to enjoy his victory after the match & then more airtime to showcase his charity work the following Monday. Geoff Shreeve who he had a run in with now behaves around him like an adoring lapdog. Rafa Benitez is allowed to get away with false claims of no money to spend when he has spent fortunes & mostly on average duffers. He gets a free pass though because the media adore Liverpool football club whilst deluged with ex Liverpool player pundits. Leave Rafa alone & savage the dreadful Yanks !!
    If you were to check out Sky TV post match interviews of Rafa Benitez & Arsene Wenger you would see the consistent contrast. Rafa ALWAYS when Liverpool lose gets an ‘easy out’ question to bail him out such as a penalty they could have been given.
    Arsene Wenger ALWAYS gets goaded to say something controversial that could get himself into trouble. Yesterday was a prime example pushed to condemn Shawcross, as was the Porto match he was pushed hard to condemn the referee.
    Good ‘Ol Arry’ Redknapp is one of your own, the cheeky chappie who has his column in the Sun. He is of course ‘teflon’ regarding Portsmouth’s dire situation & of course should take no responsibility for the future of the club he manages ! A few weeks ago he said ‘ Spurs should be above Arsenal in the table’ and then the next match versus Wolves they lose & complete a losing double against a team likely to be relegated. Redknapp deserved ridicule but of course got none.
    Martin O’Neill, David Moyes, Sam Allardyce, Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes are all serial whingers when their teams lose. When Arsenal beat Everton 6-1 on first day of the season it was according to Moyes, NOT great Arsenal football BUT Everton as a club distracted by the Joleon Lescott transfer saga !
    NO the above is all untrue & Arsene Wenger & Arsenal deserve vilifying relentlessly by a disgusting,dishonest & biased media.

  13. ArsenalStation

    February 28, 2010 at 11:14 am

    The Online Gooner dug up some of Shawcross’s previous incidents including the tackle on Adebayor and his breaking of Francis Jeffers’ ankle.


  14. Ted Harwood

    February 28, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    After Kurtis Foster broke his femur chasing down a puck for icing three years ago, the NHL simply changed the rules for how icing worked so that players would no longer be put into physically risky situations while following the rules. It’s not a straightforwardly analogous situation, but the NHL did take steps immediately to ensure that players were put through less unnecessary risk. It was a rule change that at the time many thought diluted the physical nature of the league, but nobody’s really complained about it since then.

    • ArsenalStation

      February 28, 2010 at 2:57 pm

      The problem, Ted, is that what Shawcross did is already illegal. It’s not a rule change that’s needed but a punishment commensurate with the offense.

      • Ted Harwood

        March 1, 2010 at 1:37 am

        No, you’re right, that’s why it’s not analogous, exactly. The key thing was that they realized that there was a problem, and modified their approach to the problem, whether it be by rule change, by change in enforcement, or by increased punishment.

        • ArsenalStation

          March 1, 2010 at 6:51 am

          I know exactly what you meant and you’re right.

          The thing that gets me the most is the saintly portrayal of Shawcross, like a PR campaign that kicked off immediately in the hopes of not having the player branded as dirty. Even Simon Brotherton, the BBC’s match commentator, said to Pulis afterwards something like, “To be fair, he doesn’t really have a reputation for being that type of player, does he?”

          Is he serious?

  15. jonathan

    February 28, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    This has been one of the best written articles that I have read on the subject as of yet. Great job!

    I was so so proud of Arsenal yesterday, I have not seen a togetherness and a fighting performance like that in a very long time. It was so sad to see Ramsey go down like that, and obviously I feel very bad for him, but seeing how upset the rest of the team was, really upset me too. I am just glad that they kept the pace up after the injury, and it just seemed like they wanted to win that game for Aaron. It was a great result for us, but at a horrible cost. Get well soon Aaron, and keep the faith you gooners!

    • ArsenalStation

      February 28, 2010 at 6:47 pm

      Thanks for the compliment, jonathan. And thanks to the rest of you for complimenting the piece but especially for reading and commenting. Come on you Gunners!!!

  16. jonathan

    February 28, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    Were the Stoke fans really singing “He only has one leg”? I was watching the game but did not notice it. If they did, then that is just disgraceful, and sickening. What pricks!

    • ArsenalStation

      February 28, 2010 at 6:46 pm

      I didn’t either but two Gooners who were at the match both claimed that they were on 606. I don’t think they meant a majority of the crowd since most seemed to be applauding him when he was carried off but I wouldn’t be surprised if a few supporters did that.

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