THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

3 March ~ The unfortunate injury suffered by Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey against Stoke City on Saturday is a terrible shame for one of the best young players in the league. Yet, despite suggestions to the contrary, notably from a fired-up Arsène Wenger, let us be clear that this injury was an accident – an unfortunate result of the hazards that come with the job of being a professional footballer. Or, more specifically, the hazards that come with being an Arsenal player.

Indeed, while Wenger believes that opposition teams deliberately set out to hurt Arsenal, more likely, it is the fast-paced nature of his team's playing style that makes them vulnerable to physical opposition. At first glance, statistics certainly support his accusations. Arsenal have suffered a number of serious injuries from strong challenges in recent years – to Abou Diaby, Eduardo and now Aaron Ramsey – and with 382 fouls against, Arsenal are the second-most fouled team in the Premier League so far this season (intriguingly, Hull City are first). However the reality is not as sinister as these figures suggest.

Ultimately, it is a question of probability. The fast-paced way in which Arsenal tend to play means they typically have a lot of possession (in the match against Stoke, for example, Arsenal made 422 passes to Stoke's 191). This means drawing opposition defenders and turning on the ball at an increased frequency. As a result of this, the number of tackles made against them is increased which ultimately increases the probability of fouls committed. In turn, this increases the eventual probability of injury.

Put another way, if Arsenal want to maintain high levels of possession and execute quick-passing patterns as they do then, by nature, they must accept that this makes them a target for tackles made against them. From the point of view of a team playing against Arsenal, a game-plan based on imposing one's strength and putting pressure upon the opposition in this way represents a sensible approach – especially against a team that is considered weak physically and that likes to pass the ball. Assuming it is carried out honourably, such a strategy is also very much within the laws of the game.

Add to this, for example, the general fact that many footballers choose to wear small shinpads – as opposed to the more supportive products that are available to them (presumably in favour of increased mobility on the field) – and, unfortunately for players like Ramsey, the culmination of all these factors enhances the overall risk and probability of injury.
 
Having seen one of their players suffer as they did on Saturday, one sympathises with the frustrations and overall predicament of the Arsenal team and staff. Yet it is nonetheless unhelpful for a tragedy such as this to be soured by an underlying sense of accusation and blame. No doubt, some responsibility should also be put upon media channels – such as Sky Sports – for conspiring to fuel controversy at a time when humility and reflection would have been a more appropriate tone to take. Isidore Lewis

Comments (19)
Comment by G.Man 2010-03-03 11:06:16

Well reasoned, and a spot-on conclusion.

Comment by ronaldo 2010-03-03 11:12:48

Indeed. There is far too much of a blame culture in football that needs to be replaced with a bit of 'c'est la vie!' as Arsene Wenger would call it! Furthermore, I would assume that Arsenal have more possession of the ball than most teams. Given that, it would seem plausible to suggest that opposing players tackle and fight more to win the ball, hence more likelihood of injury!

Comment by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 2010-03-03 11:56:47

Ronaldo's (and to be fair a lot of other peoples)point seems to be if your not as good as Arsenal its ok to to get physical. Maybe it would be better if clubs relied more on developing skill rather than relying on kicking the opposition?

Comment by imp 2010-03-03 12:56:19

"Assuming it is carried out honourably, such a strategy is also very much within the laws of the game."

To be "within the laws of the game", you would have to be a physical side, but without ever committing any fouls. The problem for Arsenal, and the game at large, is the lax penalisation of foul play. There is no such thing as honour in the minds of coaches who send their players out to deliberately foul opponents and break up their passing game, and it's astonishingly naive to think these teams care about anything besides results.

It's not just that sides like Arsenal are better passers of the ball. It's that sides like Stoke can not even defend well without resorting to foul play, be it pre-meditated or an 'accidental' consequence of their inability to make clean tackles.

This piece has an alarming air about it of, "Well, these things happen in the game, what do you expect?" Yeah, if sides will insist on trying to play the game the way it should be played, they should accept their fair share of broken legs. Good grief.

Comment by Drunk Academic 2010-03-03 13:43:36

There appears to be a problem with my browser - I can see the WSC logo but the article seems to be from the Daily Mail sports section written by some bitter hardman from the 1970s. "It's a man's game!" eh. British fans will only go to watch football if there are broken legs!

Comment by pwa 2010-03-03 14:23:05

When incidents like this occur, very often the media make sensationalist calls for 'something to be done'.

Clearly 'knee jerk' reactions, pardon the expression, especially those promoted by ill prepared TV presenters (and daily mail columnists), are often just unhelpful - and end up leading to witchhunts.

I think people commenting above are missing the point (perhaps you are all Arsenal fans). Obviously no one wants to see anyone get injured - but injuries have been and always will be a "hazard that comes with the job".

It is important to stick up for Ryan Shawcross now before he is vilified unfairly.

Any sport that involves an element of contact will result in injuries. And no one wants to see them (especially in young players).

But if you start wrapping players up in cotton wool, then the game will lose it's integrity.

Good article.

Comment by RayDeChaussee 2010-03-03 14:27:32

I think we're missing the point here folks. The Shawcross/Ramsey incident doesn't have anything to do with "tough" teams like Stoke sticking it up fancy dan outfits like Arsenal. It was a 50-50 ball, if anything 55-45 in Shawcross' favour - the kind of 50-50 ball that, to quote Graham Kelly, you see week in week out.

Shawcross was perfectly entitled to go for it and did nothing wrong. He didn't jump in two-footed and he didn't lunge at Ramsey. He just tried to kick the ball, in much the same way as Xabi Alonso or indeed Cesc Fabregas do in similar situations. It was just his bad luck that Ramsey, who was overstretching slightly when he went into the tackle, broke his leg as a result of it. I don't even think it was a red-card challenge, though given the seriousness of the injury and Fabregas and Campbell's reactions, the ref didn't have much choice.

Imagine the reaction of the fans, Tony Pulis and the pundits if Shawcross had pulled out of the challenge á la Beckham 2002. He'd have been pilloried for it.

Comment by BambosPittas 2010-03-03 15:09:41

I agree. Injuries have always been part of the game. Always will be. It is unfortunate and sad but how can it be avoided? The pace of the game is so quick these days that it increases the chances of mistimed tackles. Players are certainly not more "dirty" these days than they were in the "good old days" when a hack was considered good play. Football has progressed and minimised a lot of risk but you cannot eradicate it. Shawcross didn't even go in two footed or over the ball.

I also love the fact that Wenger can sit there and accuse Shawcross of an assualt (and Martin Taylor) without the kind of backlash that faced Mourinho when he had the audacity to do the same thing to Stephen Hunt when he almost (literally) killed Cech. Hunt's reputation since then hasn't exactly backed up the media's defence of him. This is anti-media, not anti-Wenger.

It goes to show, as has been a long standing frustration of mine, that the media's "principles" are dictated by a biasd agenda, designed to target and destabilise those they decide, for whatever reason (I would even argue they are merely fans who support other teams with the power to have their ill-informed and club-centric opinions forced upon us) they do not like.

Principles are surely dictated by a constant set of beliefs? If those beliefs are ever changing, your principles change and you are a hypocrit. Further, if your own personal agenda dictates your beliefs, which in turn dictates your principles, then your principles are worthless.

The media decide that they like Arsenal and so decide to spin the Ramsey story in a certain way. The opposite was true for Cech and Chelsea.

And I may be guilty of letting my support of Chelsea influence my principles and thought, but it's a childish argument if that is the only comebacl to my point is as I am in no way supportive of everything Chelsea does.

Comment by Lincoln 2010-03-03 16:28:26

That's a great point. One of my gripes, which is drifting off the subject of this article, is the influence they have over fans and offical bodies.

Comment by shamottle 2010-03-03 22:25:47

"It's that sides like Stoke can not even defend well without resorting to foul play, be it pre-meditated or an 'accidental' consequence of their inability to make clean tackles."

Why is it not possible to accept that Stoke are a good defensive team and the tackle in question was a freak accident?

If you want to give us Arshavin, Fabregas and Walcott we'll try and refrain from all the 'accidental' pieces of foul play and knock the ball around more. Thanks in advance.

Comment by Sport Economist 2010-03-04 09:22:44

But the Stephen Hunt incident was a complete accident too.

Comment by stuart77 2010-03-04 11:53:39

i think if you inure someone, you should be banned until they are able to play 90 minutes again.

this would have put at stop to the likes of Shearer, who nearly blinded Ugo Ehiogu with his elbow but got away with it because he is an England player

Comment by imp 2010-03-04 14:04:30

Shamottle - a good defensive team, in my book, would be one that conceded few goals while committing no, or minimal, fouls. It is actually possible to be a good defender without contravening the laws of the game. It means being fit and quick enough to cover opponents or make tackles without subjecting them to the risk of injury. You can be tough without being a thug or a lummox. When Stoke plays that way, I'll be at the front of the cheerleaders praising their progressive style.

These posts are depressing. It's staggering to me that so many people can blame the speed of the modern game and the skill of the opposition for 'provoking' clumsy challenges. Just because there's a risk of injury when playing football doesn't mean we have to accept it with a shrug when it happens. If someone close to you was killed in a road accident you wouldn't just say, "There's a risk every time you get in a car. Part of modern life, I'm afraid." Governments use laws and car companies use design to work on ways to reduce the risk of accident. Football needs to urgently work on properly implementing its laws to reduce the risk of player injury.

Comment by RayDeChaussee 2010-03-04 17:35:12

I agree with what you say imp, but there's no escaping the fact that risk of injury is part and parcel of the game, of any contact sport, just as there's always going to be a risk of copping it every time you get in a car, no matter how many safety features manufacturers pack into them.

There's a salient point that's being overlooked here. The Shawcross incident has been magnified because it's a Stoke player breaking the leg of an Arsenal player: beauty versus the beast. Only in this case, Shawcross challenged fairly (in my view) for a 50-50 ball. He didn't go over the top, he didn't lunge in and he didn't set out to nail Ramsey. Using his tackle as the basis for a wider discussion on stamping out foul play is a false premise as far as I'm concerned. The Taylor tackle on Eduardo was an altogether different kettle of fish, as was Keane's assault on Haaland or the two-footed tackles that the likes of Gerrard and A. Cole have perpetrated over the years.

Comment by RayDeChaussee 2010-03-04 17:44:08

Also, I don't agree with the import of the article. Just because Arsenal play nice football doesn't mean to say they should have to accept the risk of getting booted off the park.

What I'm trying to say above is that the Shawcross tackle shouldn't be lumped in with far worse incidents involving foul play, as terrible as the injury to Ramsey is. There's a need for greater objectivity here.

Comment by shamottle 2010-03-04 20:41:57

imp,

Clearly the likes of Adams, Keown, Vieira and Petit never thought of doing anything other than playing by the laws of the game. Even Fabregas decided to go into the back of one of Stoke's players at the end of the game even though the ball was long gone.

As Ray says, more objectivity is needed in this argument. Shawcross's challenge wasn't a great one, but neither is it somehow symptomatic of Stoke's "dirty" style of play. Football is a contact sport, there will be contact and there will be injuries. It's a fact of life and to suggest Stoke need to change how they play is ridiculous.

Comment by imp 2010-03-05 13:30:20

Just saying "football is a contact sport" is not an argument in itself. Of course it's a f***ing contact sport, that's why FIFA has Law 12 penalising players who are careless, reckless or use excessive force. I've absolutely nothing against physical but fair play, but football's primarily a game to be played with skill, artistry and innovation with the aim of getting the ball into the goal. It's easy to deride that as some kind of naive puritanism, but you can also view it as an ideal the game shouldn't lose sight of.

I take your point about Arsenal's history of physical players, and a certain hypocrisy in media coverage depending on the teams involved. You're right, it's not an Arsenal-Stoke issue, as such, it's an issue that needs considered but ultimately radical action in the way the game's laws are enforced. Not just to protect players, but to make the game worth watching at all.

Comment by phnompenhandy 2010-03-06 02:03:33

For the premise of the article to be valid, surely the same points should apply to their superior continental cousins, Barcelona. I don't have access to statistics and maybe someone can support my hunch, but I'm sure they aren't on the receiving end of the same proportion of fouls. If so, the root problem is not Arsenal's style, but the English footballing culture.

Comment by shamottle 2010-03-06 21:10:58

imp,

I think you're being over the top. The challenge Shawcross made was only a red card because of what happened to Ramsey. There are hundreds of similar tackles made in 50/50 situations every season where the result is normally a free-kick, occasionally a yellow card, and very occasionally, a red.

How many "leg-breaking" tackles are there in a Premiership each season, 4 or 5? How many legs actually get broken, 2 or 3?

I don't think there's a problem at all. It's not like Arsenal have had 3 broken legs in a season. Most teams have at least one every couple of years. Wenger's just trying to get referees on his side so Arsenal don't get bullied out of as many games by opposition prepared to hussle and harry for every ball.

One of the main reasons our league is so popular worldwide is the pace of the game; unlike in a lot of European leagues where retaining shape is favoured to pressing the ball, Stoke's kind of constant pressure makes the game more exciting.

To my knowledge that's the first serious injury a Stoke player has caused to the opposition in the 5 years or so Pulis has been manager. Our style might not be pretty, but by and large it's effective and in accordance with the laws of the game.

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