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Tuesday 26 February 2008

Win For Eduardo, We're Gonna Win It For Eduardo!

Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea is the ideal expression to describe Paul Burrell’s situation last Sunday, as I heard the dulcet tones of the Arsenal’s stadium announcer (as opposed to Lady Di’s butler), echoing out from the Wembley tannoy at the Mickey Mouse Cup Final. Then I guess that much like me, most Gooners were struggling with the dilemma of having to choose between the insufferable smugness of their Spurs mates, should they manage to secure their first silverware in 9 years, or the unbearable thought of the Blue scum bagging yet another, albeit trivial tin pot.

Mercifully I was otherwise occupied, driving my nephew Shane to Heathrow to catch his flight back to Dublin. But judging by how tepid an affair the first-half sounded on the car radio, if I’d been sat at home on front of the TV, my problem probably would’ve been solved by me nodding off and snoozing through the somewhat livelier latter stages

Shane and I shared a celebratory bear-hug when Theo Walcott's second strike hit the back of the net at St Andrews, but we parted company at Heathrow with the sort of typically awkward embrace that always seems to occur between male relatives, who are never quite certain what passes for suitably affectionate protocol. I did my best to reassure him that he must come back again soon, but he headed off to the terminal wearing a sullen expression, as though he personally bore the entire weight of what’s been labelled “a miserable week for the Gunners” across his young shoulders, perhaps wondering if actually I was glad to see the back of him.

Doubtless it would’ve been best if we’d both kept schtum as we strolled home from 0-0 draw with AC Milan last week and Shane recalled his last disastrous Gooner pilgrimage. Of all the glorious games he could’ve seen during our Invicible 03/04 league campaign, the poor kid had the misfortune to come over for our FA Cup semifinal defeat to Man Utd, swiftly followed three days later by our ignominious Champions League exit at home to Chelsea!

I’d completely forgotten about this trip, as I was under the misconception that Shane had the unblemished track record of a lucky mascot and I jokingly suggested that he might not have been invited back, especially for this particular match, if I had remembered. What’s more, having encouraged him to extend his stay, so he might be initiated into the more fervent atmosphere of the awayday experience, I couldn’t resist yanking his chain, teasing him that he’d hardly be top of my list for future match tickets, if his copybook was blotted by a failure to beat Birmingham at St Andrews on Saturday.

In truth I was relieved he wasn’t returning to Dublin straight after the anti-climax of the 0-0 draw with Milan. Shane was only a wee bairn when he joined the majority of the Dublin contingent, in their conversion to the Gooner faith. Having been largely responsible, it gave me a warm fuzzy feeling to see the look of awe on his face, as he caught his first glimpse of our magnificent new arena. He was even more aghast as we took our seats and his brilliant live view of our beloved Gunners and the visiting footballing royalty of Kaka and co. began to sink in. It took me back to the thrill of my own childhood, as I enjoying the vicarious buzz of hearing that the hair on the back of Shane’s neck was standing to attention as the two teams entered the arena.

However, although it will have undoubtedly been a night to remember, I couldn’t help but feel that Shane had been somewhat cheated, with him having been denied the euphoria of a goal celebration. I was therefore delighted that he would at least have a second opportunity at St Andrews on Saturday, to make his trip feel complete. If I was fretting, as the weekend approached, about Shane getting an opportunity to enjoy seeing the Arsenal score, after our exchange a few days prior, poor Shane must’ve been positively planking it, thinking his prospects of ever seeing the Gunners play live again, might rest on the outcome of this one game.

I’ve been expressing my concerns about our lack of sufficient a ruthless streak for much of the season. It seemed obvious to me that our inability to kill teams off might eventually cost us dear and sadly this account finally fell due on Saturday. Never mind Gael Clichy’s last gasp act of hari-kari (or Flamini’s failure to clear our lines), our 5-point cushion would’ve still been intact, in spite of this momentary lapse in concentration, if we’d managed to force home our advantage.

Mind you, at half-time I was mightily relieved, as in truth McFadden should’ve scored a second, when one-on-one with Almunia, in just about City’s only other attack of the game. My relief was multiplied tenfold when Theo managed to pop up with an equaliser so soon after the break, finally giving Shane something to celebrate. Naturally I’d have preferred for the euphoria to have been a little less fleeting, but when Theo found the back of the net for a second time, I am sure Shane enjoyed the sort of highly intoxicating rush that makes committed addicts of the rest of us live football fanatics.

It was all the sweeter for the fact that we were sitting in seats that were directly adjacent to the home fans and we’d endured a non-stop stream of vitriolic stick for the entire first 45. As a result, we didn’t hesitate to return the compliment, in spades! However our proximity to the home fans meant that it was all the more painful when they had the last laugh. And with the traumatic details of Eduardo’s horrific injury having trickled down across the terrace during half-time, we were all the more distraught, as only minutes earlier we’d been trumpeting that “we’re gonna win for Eduardo”!

I am glad that le Gaffer retracted his somewhat rash, post-match comments. Admittedly we were a long way from the incident, but if I’m honest, I actually groaned when Mike Dean produced a red card. I initially thought it a fairly innocuous tackle and for the second time in a week, I was gutted to see a ref spoil a match for the watching millions in the opening minutes. Aside from the fact that there is so little space behind the ten men’s concerted efforts to defend in numbers, often as not the ref will spend the remainder of the match attempting to redress the balance by booking everything that moves.

With hindsight perhaps Taylor did deserve to go, but I remain unconvinced that there was any malice involved and if it wasn’t for the recent crackdown on ‘over the top’ tackles’ or perhaps the awful sight of Eduardo’s distorted limb, Dean might not have been in such a rush to send him off.

Coincidentally I happened to have the TV on late on Saturday night, whilst waiting to watch the worst World Heavyweight Championship fight it has ever been my displeasure to witness (where an earlier fight involving Irishman John Duddy was the only redeeming factor). Immediately before the boxing, they were showing one of those "Classic games" involving Man City’s 4 goal fightback against Spurs in the 4th round of the 2004 FA Cup. Joey Barton appeared to try and take out Michael Brown, with a very similar looking tackle. The only difference being that luckily for him, Brown appeared to anticipate the challenge and so his standing leg went backwards as Barton collided, thereby ensuring that he avoided the full brunt of the collision. Barton not only avoided a red card, but wasn't even booked!

Unless we want to see the beautiful game turned into a non-contact sport, the fact of the matter is that sadly, such tragic incidents are inevitable from time to time, especially with the stakes being so high in the modern game. If anyone is culpable, it’s probably Alex Mcleish, as you can be sure that the most common pre-match instruction issued to teams competing against this gifted Arsenal squad is to “get your foot in early on, just to let them know you are there”, as many sides attempt to make up for any perceived deficiency in their ability, with their physical commitment.

It doesn’t benefit our team for our manager to be adopting a victim mentality and Arsène’s hard done by attitude obviously doesn’t endear us to the rest of the footballing world. Beside which, it comes across as somewhat hypocritical considering the malicious way in which our own players went after Nani only last week at Old Trafford (although to be perfectly honest, I’m sure I would’ve tried to kick Nani up in the air, with a similarly hot-headed reaction). The physicality of many of our opponents is the price we (or tragically in this case, Eduardo) pay for having such a marvelous team and it is in fact a compliment to the Arsenal that this is the only means many sides have of trying to stop us.

As a result, was relieved to hear that Wenger had retracted his "heat of the moment" response. Aside from the fact that I am sure the footballing media were lining up to offer their scornful reaction to Arsène's ridiculous insistence on a "life ban", I can't help but wonder if, on reflection, le Gaffer realised that by climbing on such a high horse, he was only making a rod for our own back, the next time one of our own makes a rash challenge. Of all people, Arsène should be able to appreciate that you simply cannot legislate for this sort of tragedy, in a modern game that's played at such a frenetic pace, in a pressure cooker climate.

I’m truly gutted for Eduardo, especially since he was only just in the process of establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with in the Premiership. I was also somewhat shell-shocked as we exited St Andrews, wondering how on earth the Gunners had failed to offer up the three points as a tribute to their team-mate. Not to mention being a little bemused as to why on earth Adebayor had to go and upset the gods of superstition by having his barnet cut and where on earth Alex Hleb has left his shooting boots!

Initially I felt we’d been complacent after taking the lead, over-confident that a third goal would eventually materialise by right. Strangely enough, there were several instances where, instead of moving the ball on, in what has now become traditional one and two touch Arsenal fashion, we seemed to dally on the ball, showing too much of it to the opposition, as if teasing them into making the challenge, in the belief that they'd be left looking foolish when sleight of foot had ensured the ball had disappeared long before the opposition attempted their challenge. And so while I am not in any way attempting to condone any resulting clatterings, in some respects, it seemed to me as if we shouldn't be surprised if, as a result, the opposition were antagonised into trying to take us out.

However having seen some of our players ashen-faced reaction to Eduardo’s injury later that same night, I guess if ever we should be able to cut them some slack, it was after this sickening event (even to the extent of giving our captain a break, after his downright barmy reaction).

Meanwhile I pray that the loss of Eddy's goal scoring contribution doesn’t prove too costly to our title challenge and that our Brazilian striker proves to be as determined a little bugger off the pitch, as he is on it, thereby enabling him to make a record breaking recovery without any complications I also hope that there is no permanent psychological damage, as players are often affected by such a devastating injury, to the point where it subconsciously affects their game. While they might get straight back on the horse, unfortunately it often proves to be the case that they can no longer play at full pace without touching the brakes.

As I see it, there are only two possible scenarios. Either we are about to crack under the pressure and our campaign is suddenly going to be derailed, as our season heads south over the course of the next couple of matches, just as winter turns into spring. Or alternatively, Le Prof is truly going to have to earn his corn, by inspiring the troops to prove they are made of stronger stuff and instead of using Eddy's awful injury as an excuse, it will turn out to be the catalyst that encourages us to kick on from here, thereby ensuring that Eduardo's career threatening injury wasn't in vain and instead of grapes and flowers, come May they can cheer the Brazilian striker up by brightening up his bedside with a dazzling array of silverware!

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Anonymous said...

Sanity returns. The most balanced commentary on recent events from an Arsenal perspective. Lets end the witchhunt and get on with the season. A good read.

Anonymous said...

mate , great blog...but have to disagree re Taylor, if that tackle had come in the second half I would agree with you but 3 minutes into the game there is only one message being sent out. Combine that with the height of the tackle and the photo circulating of the look on Taylor's face afterwards and it has been enough for me to want to see them "go down with the scum".

Anonymous said...

Utter rubbish. There is no witch hunt just the usual racist clap trap amongst the scum that passes for the media that makes it okay that it was only some foreigner who got injured through no fault of the whiter than white 'Tiny' Taylor.

Bern said...

More fool anyone who reads anything into the image doing the rounds allegedly showing Taylor smiling after breaking Eduardo's leg.

Aside from the fact that any nincompoop could turn a frown into a smile in 5 minutes with Photoshop, even if there was any malice intended by Taylor, with all the lenses pointing at Premiership matches nowadays, he would have to be a bloody idiot to be caught expressing his pleasure at having hurt a fellow player.

Setting aside any possible conspiracy theories, it takes a millisecond to capture an image on film and so for all we know, Taylor's turned up lips are merely his normal disposition. Or perhaps he was simply in the process of forming, or having just spoken a word to his teammates which involves this particular mouth shape.

Only Taylor knows, but perhaps he was just smiling because he hadn't seen the extent of the injury he'd just inflicted and was thinking about the pat on the back he was going to receive from his manager for having carried McLeish's pre-match instructions to the letter? Although I tend to believe otherwise!

If you look at the issue logically, there are really only two possible scenarios where a professional player would intentionally try to cause serious injury to another player (by contrast to merely inflicting the sort of bruising clattering we see week in, week out, whereby one might merely be following a manager's instructions to "let them know you are there early doors", in the hope the recipient might go missing for the remainder of the game)

An tackle with any real malicious intent only tends to be inflicted by a player with a sadistic reputation for wanting to harm opponents, or between players where there is some previous antagonsim.

Since we are told by everyone concerned that Taylor does not have a reputation for being a "nasty piece of work" and since Eduardo hasn't been playing in the Premiership long enough to have incited the of level of antagonism that might result in an attempt to do him some damage, nor had this game been going long enough for the Brazilian to have wound anyone one up, then in the cold light of day, it seems to me that there are really only two possible causes.

Either this was merely an over enthusiastic, awful challenge from a journeyman defender who was so pumped up for the game that he was always going to go flying in, in typically clumsy fashion at the first possible opportunity.

Alternatively, the very worst case scenario, in my humble opinion, Taylor was merely attempting to follow his manager's instructions to deny us space and to "let them know you are there, early doors", with the sort of clattering challenge we often see perpetrated at the start of matches, where patently inferior opposition are attempting to intimidate us with a sufficiently forceful challenge that we might spend the remainder of the match worrying about being caught again and distracted from doing any real damage with the ball.

However if this was the case, you would have to go a very long way to convince me that there was actual real intent to take Eduardo out of the game.

How often do we see opposition players leave their studs in, in an effort to leave Arsenal players with something to remember them by, by way of four stud marks (although I guess I am showing my age, since nowadays it would probably be "blade marks".

If we were calling for a sending off every time a player was seen running up to the ref with a rolled down sock, screaming at the official to look at the evidence of foul play, this would result in a helluva lot of suspensions!

Football is a manly game and every time a player takes to the pitch, he risks the possibility of serious injury, especially these days, with the incredible pace of the game and the levels of commitment demanded in pressure cooker situations, where one single goal can mean the difference between financial survival and bankruptcy.

I suppose that in truth (although we bemoan the inconsistent referees almost every game), it is testament to the high standards of officiating that bad injuries don't occur more frequently. Nevertheless, I hate the fact that they are forced to rule to the letter of the law, rather than the spirit, as for example, in order to protect players' Achilles, they have banned completely the tackle from behind.

Personally I think it a crying shame that we've seen so many of the defensive arts disappear out of the window as a result. From my point of view (as a left-back in my youth), I adored seeing a player prevent a goal, just as much as I revelled in seeing us score one.

I loved to see a defender chasing down a striker and having the bottle to try and relieve him of possession before they reach the penalty area, by trying to time his tackle to perfection, with a raking leg reaching out, around in front of the striker and somehow relieving him of the ball

Sadly this skill is rapidly being lost because players these days are far too afraid of attempting anything like it, now that every tackle from behind has been deemed a bookable offence, when in truth, we should be able to applaud his skills, if the defender has developed the ability and the crucial timing to take the ball first before catching the striker.

I know there are Gooners out there who are unhappy about the fact that certain opponents always come out the try and rough us up, but this is part and parcel of the British game and is in fact a compliment to us, as it demonstrates that they don't think they can compete with us on a level playing field.

However for those of us Gooners who are long enough in the tooth to have grown up watching the likes of Peter Storey & co, grinding out results against the flair sides of the late sixties/early seventies, personally speaking I view this as merely an alternative (not so beautiful) method of playing the game. I don't know what the stats say, but back when the likes of Chopper Harris and Norman "Bites Yer Legs" Hunter were hacking opponents down left right and centre, I don't recall that there were many more serious injuries than we see in the modern game (and I am sure someone will be so kind as to set me straight if I am wrong).

For my money I see many of our encounters these days as the equivalent of the classic, stereotypical boxing contest, between the boxer and the puncher. Mercifully, the dangerous clash of heads, or the slashing cut from a glove, are fairly few and far between, but you simply cannot legislate in an attempt to try and eradicate them completely, not without fundamentally spoiling the game we have all come to know and love.

Thankfully, at the end of the day, in most circumstances the artistic boxer tends to triumph over the lumbering slugger and in the hope that Eduardo's awful injury hasn't been in vain, nor all the effort Eddy put in previously with his twelve goal contribution, the ref will be holding a red & white arm up come May!