On the Ramsey/Shawcross affair, we still await the thoughts of Monty and Rupert, names that somehow seemed to personify posh London football support when they were announced on tannoy at Arsenal v Sunderland. Lots of others, notably Gooners, have had their say, however, and not least at Salut! Sunderland …
Just before the kickoff of Stoke v Arsenal, the TV screen (sound down) showed Arsène Wenger and my football-loathing wife started on about how much better dressed, better spoken, more intelligent, better everything he was than your usual football character.
She’s French so would say as much. But it’s a view that I happen, up to point, to share.
Arsène is immensely bright, eloquent in at least two languages and, though this would be lost on my wife, deserving of huge credit for transforming Arsenal from quite successful but dull into quite successful and exciting. If the title race is now a three-horse one, it is Manchester United and Chelsea that I want to see as disappointed runners up on the final straight.
Up to a point, I said.
Well, it is hardly original, but it is true none the less. Arsène ‘s selective acknowledgement and disapproval of unfair or violent play, and his disdain for teams that do not or cannot play like his, will inevitably diminish the admiration of many neutrals.
On Saturday night, shocked by the injury to Aaron Ramsey, I wrote some quick words of sympathy on Salut! Sunderland. There was no defence of clogging, no defence of Ryan Shawcross, no dispute with the red card. And I repeated my hope that Arsenal would go on and win the Premier.
Where contention arose, it was because I mildly raised the following points:
* that the challenge by Shawcross, though late and reckless, was devoid of malice
* that he deserved his punishment (and maybe even to be excluded from the England squad for the Egypt friendly) – but not to be treated as a pariah
* that Arsen/al/e should rise above their justified anger and sadness and accept that their own players are not saints who would never dream of committing serious foul play or cheating
On a match-free (for Sunderland) Saturday, the response was astonishing. More than 1,000 visits over the next two or three hours – a lot for this site – and a big electronic postbag (unheard of here).
There was anger, forcefully but fairly expressed. There was a little gratitude, which was very welcome, for our sympathy and encouragement for Aaron. And there was a sprinkling of abuse from neanderthals in terms Arsene is unlikely to have added to his everyday use of English.
Among those who criticised my views, a few singled out Lorik Cana’s challenge on Eboue at the Emirates as a lunge that should have brought a straight red. No one mounted a plausible defence of Cesc Fabregas’s clear yellow card offence on Mensah at a time when he had already been booked, though they did say his first card was undeserved (which is hardly the point).
But we have been consistent at this site, partisan as it is. We have declared ourselves firmly against illegal play, in all its forms and whoever commits it.
And regular readers will yawn when I say, yet again, that there has been disturbing lack of discipline in the Sunderland ranks. This has led to self-destructive suspensions. When Cattermole and Meyler were sent off at Portsmouth, they received no sympathy here.
While Cana’s combative qualities are appreciated (though his general standard of play has deteriorated sharply during our long run of draws and defeats), he has a reckless streak, as the clip shows. As another intelligent man (and polyglot), he must be aware of this – and either curb it or have it curbed for him.
But Arsenal had a (much better) player with similar steely qualities not long ago, and under Wenger. Vieira is name, and he has shown of late that he is not quite ready yet to shirk from potentially dangerous challenges. It is in the nature of some players to go in hard, whether they’re playing in the Top Four part of the Premier or battling against relegation. And such players will always pick up cards.
You do not need to have a down on Arsenal, or to believe opposing managers are right to instruct their players to mount physical assaults on their talented players, to think Gooners protest too much. Gallas showed against Bolton, and in that well-documented footage of his series of assaults on Nani that he can lunge and kick out with the best of them.
There is no need to say much about diving here – what happened to Aaron Ramsey is far, far more important – but it is reasonable to point out that much of the sympathy Eduardo rightly received, after he was on the end of a career-threatening challenge, evaporated when he made his name synonymous with cheating.
It is a fault of Arsène Wenger that he rarely admits to having seen the transgressions of his players. He is not alone in that, and managers have a duty to defend their squads when necessary, but he does seem to have made it a trademark.
None of this is intended to suggest that Arsenal are a remotely dirty team – the football they play is usually a credit to the Premier – and nor does it exonerate footballers from other clubs, Sunderland included, who commit bad fouls against them. I am grateful to (the majority of) the Gooners who shared their thoughts here on Saturday night, but ask them to regain a sense of proportion and stop imagining that the world is out to get them.