Gwellhad Buan, Aaron! - Burnley - Sit Down, Shut Up!

First things first. I’m sure we all hope that Aaron Ramsey is already well on the road to recovery following surgery on the broken bones in his leg. If you want to sent him a “get well soon” message (if you’re wandering, “gwellhad buan” is “get well soon” in Welsh) then you do so via the official club site here. As a proud Gooner and Welshman I hope for a full and speedy recovery and to to see Aaron back in the red of both Arsenal and Wales soon. Get well soon mate:
It was a horrible injury. You only had to see the immediate reaction of both his team-mates and some of the Stoke City players to know that. As Arsčne Wenger has correctly pointed out this is the third such injury inside five seasons. There was the horror tackle from behind by Sunderland’s Dan Smith on Abou Diaby in 2006 in a dying minutes of a game we were winning going away at the Stadium of Light.  Then the Eduardo injury at St Andrew’s from a horror tackle by Birmingham City’s Martin Taylor in February 2008, a game which turned out to be key in our failed drive for that season’s Premier League title, a late City equalising penalty from a daft Gaël Clichy error dropping two vital points down the khazi,   prompting a post-match on-field temper tantrum by William Gallas. Now the latest serious injury caused by an opponent’s tackle.
I thought at the time that the Diaby tackle was unnecessary, gratutitous and violent. It was and is difficult to understand why Stone wasn’t giving his marching orders, merely receiving a yellow card. It was easy to see what a malicious tackle it was from the Arsenal end sixty metres away, the officials were a lot closer. At least Taylor and Shawcross were sent off. I was at the Stadium of Light in 2006 as I was at the game on Saturday in the Potteries. I wasn’t at St Andrew’s as I was away on business that weekend. I’ve seen the tackle on Eduardo too many times on television however. It was awful.
I’m probably not going to make myself popular with a lot of Gooners by saying this, but having viewed the Ryan Shawcross tackle on Aaron Ramsey a good view times now I’m not sure whether he intended to hurt his opponent or not. I tend to think from his reaction and from that of a number of his team mates that he might well have been intending to “get stuck in” to use the British euphemism but not to cause such a horrific injury. Such injuries are however the foreseeable consequence of the style employed by lot of teams in this country. Wenger is right to be angry about that. It was Aaron Ramsey’s bad luck that Aaron Ramsey’s studs firmly planted in the pitch the instant before Shawcross whacked him. The result torque was thus a leg breaker whereas if Ramsey’s foot hadn’t made contact with the ground he would have got away with some bruising and maybe some ligament damage at worst.
There is a tendency to see these things in black and white and on some occasions they aren’t quite as clear as that. There’s been many calls pinging around the blogosphere of the Gooner Nation for Ryan Shawcross’s head to be paraded on a spike. His dismissal was clearly correct. As will be a three match suspension for violent play. Let’s keep a sense of perspective however. The real culprit which should be in the dock is the tendency of some British teams to overdo the physical commitment. Personally I don’t want tackling and contact to be driven out of the game. I always thought however that football in this country right into the late 1970s was blighted by violent tackles, particularly from behind.
Neanderthals like Ron “Chopper” Harris at Chelsea (and, let’s be fair, our own Peter Storey) could clog the opposition with tackles that would get you three months inside these days, never mind a red card. It did the game no favours. Outlawing the tackle from behind and generally clamping down on leg-breaking tackles was a positive move. Sometimes even the International Football Association Board, the guardians of the game’s playing laws and regulations can occasionally get things right. I remember Pelé being kicked off the park with some horrific “tackles”, better called assaults, in the 1966 World Cup.
The brutal tactics employed by too many teams in that tournament led directly to the first of a series of clamp-downs on violent play (and the introduction of substitutes for the first time) in the following World Cup in Mexico in 1970. The clamp-down and the introduction of substitutes, allied to the altitude of the Mexican grounds used for the tournament, which meant playing a pressing game for ninety minutes was all but impossible. These factors led to some wonderfully memorable games, chief amongst them England v Brazil in the group stage, Brazil v Peru in the quarter-finals, the dramatic West Germany v Italy semi-final in which Franz Beckenbaur played extra-time with his broken arm in a sling, the West Germans having used both their two permitted substitutes. And of course the unforgettable Brazil v Italy Final in the Estadio Azteca with its majestic goal of the game from Carlos Alberto, running on to pass rolled in front of him to perfection by Pelé to crash in a wicked cross shot.
Back to events on Saturday. There’s also been – rightly – condemnation of those Stoke City fans of the Stone Age tendency who gloried in Aaron Ramsey’s horrible injury. Whatever misfortune might befall them in the future I just hope it’s nothing trivial. That said let’s not put all the Potters’ followers in the same category. We know they’ve got more than a few bell-ends. We saw that with the unprovoked assaults on Gooners at the Grove last season by Stoke City “fans”. That said, I didn’t personally witness these incidents (although I do have reliable first-hand accounts). I did see plenty of Potters fans enjoying themselves and causing absolutely no trouble in the London sunshine.  These were no doubt amongst those who applauded Aaron’s stretcher off the park at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday.
Let’s be honest too. We have a few Gooners who don’t do us any favours in the winning of friends and influence. This sort of fan, and every club has them, seem to go through life with a permanent snear, all to ready to hurl mouthy insults at anybody who has the temerity to follow another club. I’m all in favour of the banter and the wind-up. How about a bit of laughing with people rather than at people though? How about a bit more pro-Arsenal and a bit less anti everybody else? Just my two bob’s worth.
For the last word on this incident I’ll turn to Graham Poll. I never thought I’d agree with anything the former whistler and lifetime egomaniac would have to say but he’s made a valid point writing in the Daily Mail. He points out that such injuries tend to come when the game gets mad and frenetic as it was immediately before Ramsey got his leg broken in two places. When the game turns that way it’s time for the referee to properly use his discretion and whistle for every foul rather than look for the advantage to the non-offending side as generally they should. They can also use their discretion to call in both captains and issue a stern warning that enough is enough and tell the skippers firmly that players are going to get their marching orders soon if they don’t calm down and concentrate on playing the ball rather than each other.
Such astute “game management” by the referee can take the steam out of a game that’s threatening to boil over. Managing the game and being sensitive to the mood of the two teams is a skill that all above-average match officials in any team sport have. The great Italian referee Pierluigi Collina had this knack in spades. If a game was threatening to go turbo he would give the first free-kick he saw then call in the captains, often clearly stopping his watch to prevent players agitating about lost seconds, then take his time, talking slowly and calmly to the captains, letting them know in no uncertain terms that he’d had enough and that the players had better get a grip of themselves – or else. He’d deliver his lecture without finger pointing and in a calm manner. It worked most of the time. By the time play re-commenced the players had usually calmed down sufficiently for him to be able to keep his red card in his pocket.
We don’t want referees blowing up for every trivial offence without waiting to see whether an advantage to the non-offending side comes. The great games tend to be those in which the referee isn’t being talked about afterwards. Let’s keep a sense of perspective but do what’s necessary to keep such serious injuries to an absolute minimum. They can and will happen – just look at the injury to Robin van Persie playing for the Netherlands in a less than intense friendly against Italy in Pescara last November. Good refereeing can cut down the chances of them occurring. Not being a mind-reader I can’t know Ryan Shawcross’s true intentions last Saturday. The pictures I’ve seen tend to suggest he was genuinely contrite when leaving the field after being dismissed. The true culprit is the tendency of too many British teams and managers to confuse a potentially dangerous level of physical aggression with commitment to the cause.
On a positive note, I thought we came back well from conceding yet another goal from a Rory Delap long-throw. We just never seem to learn though, do we? It’s not as if this tactic is unexpected. I’m not going to complain about the tactic itself. It’s perfectly within the laws of the game. As I’ve said before we can’t and shouldn’t expect the opposition to employ tactics that suit our strengths. As an aside the referees do need to be more assertive about the time lost during these long throws. Delap was taking up to 25 seconds to put the ball back into play on Saturday. At around 20 seconds a throw and say six long-throws a game that’s two minutes of the ball being play lost. The referee should at least make it clear that he’s going to stop his watch after say ten seconds until the ball is put back into play.
After a shaky first fifteen minutes and too many stray passes surrendering possession and conceding yet another soft goal we gradually played ourselves back into the game. The most pleasing aspect of the match for me was that we finally seemed to understand that against teams like Stoke City who are going to play a pressing game you have to match them physically to earn the right to play. Perhaps aided a little by the Potters having played a taxing FA Cup replay against Manchester City including extra time in midweek, we gradually began to get on top and hold the ball for long periods. We pretty much owned the ball in the second half and were value for our hard-fought win. The penalty for handball was a good decision by the referee I thought, although not an easy call in terms of the player’s intention. On the other hand I thought Aaron Ramsey was brought down in the box earlier in the match for which we didn’t get a penalty so we definitely deserved at least one of the two.
The value of the short-term re-signing of Sol Campbell was demonstrated on Saturday. In the absence of Big Bad Bill Gallas he played very well alongside Thomas Vermaelen, not only defending well but constantly talking and organising. I wondered whether he’d still have it with the advancing years but his value as a leader as well as a defender shone through. Samir Nasri also prospered out wide, as did Aaron Ramsey who played very well after a shaky start (not that he was alone in that). Eduardo missed a decent chance shortly before the go-ahead penalty but I think he’ll be amongst the goals again soon if he sticks at it. All in all a very encouraging performance mentally. We need to keep that level of commitment up right until the end of the season, whilst working VERY hard on cutting out the silly goals we keep on conceding. That could be the difference between silverware in May or a fifth barren season.
Next up is Burnley in the League at the Grove on Saturday. We need to be focused, efficient and absolutely ruthless in that match. We need three points and another good contribution to upping our goal difference and goals scored. We’re seven behind United in goal difference and four behind Chelsea. On goals scored however we’re equal with United on 66 and one in front of Chelsea on 65. If we can score a few and keep a few clean sheets we’ll give ourselves a fighting chance of pulling ahead of them on both measures, which would be worth an additional point if the race really tightens up.
For that to happen both United and Chelsea will have to slip up at least one more time each than we do between now and the end of the season. Chelsea’s 4-2 home defeat last Saturday against Manchester can be put down to poor goalkeeping by Hilario, in for the injured Petr Čech. Our goalkeeping is less than stellar so let’s not get too carried away at the moment. That said, we’ve pushed to within three points of Chelsea at the summit and two points of United in second. Let’s keep on going and see where we end up in May. Here’s a thought. I wouldn’t completely rule out the first ever Premier League championship play-off. League rules require a play-off game at a neutral ground in the event of two teams finishing level on points, goal difference and goals scored. If I were the Premier League I’d have a contingency plan for that in the filing cabinet just in case. I hope not though. I’m not sure my heart could stand it if we were involved in such a game!
It’s highly unlikely but so was the finish to the 1988/89 season. Who knows?

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