Like many other reds, I was absolutely outraged when I found out the FA were letting off William Gallas for intentionally kicking Nani when the teams met in the Cup. The message they are sending out is that it’s acceptable to kick (United) players off the ball if they’ve previously humiliated you with their skill. With several players more than capable of switching on silky skills and tricks, this does not bode well for United.
In the post match interview, Wenger was questioned about the behaviour of his players after Nani’s showboating, who went in hard on the player, with the biggest culprit being Gallas, who kicked out at Nani twice, even when the ball had gone. “We were incensed and most rightly so,” he said. “It is difficult enough to swallow when you are three or four goals down – you do not want to be teased or humiliated.” His comments were classless and cowardice, defending the violent behaviour of his players rather than condemn it. In light of the incident of Saturday and his post match comments, this puts Wenger in an awkward position.
I watched the Birmingham vs Arsenal game on Saturday, in the vague hope that the blues might at least be able to hold our title rivals to a draw. Within the first few minutes when Eduardo went to ground after a seemingly harmless challenge from Martin Taylor I was calling for the Arsenal striker to get up. After the Birmingham player came in to him, Eduardo hit the deck, sat up, then collapsed back on the ground. It is only as the minutes passed by that the severity of the challenge became clear. The look on the Arsenal players faces were sickening and the ominous lack of replay confirmed Eduardo had suffered an incredibly serious injury.
With a few months until the end of the season, United fans will look to anything that gives us an advantage. I dislike Arsenal and the majority of their players, and following the kicking they dealt to our lads in the Cup, it would take an awful lot for me to feel any sympathy for them. However, the eight minutes in which Eduardo lay on the pitch made truly horrible viewing and I have the utmost sympathy for the player. There has been talk he is looking at the end of his career and I sincerely hope this is not the case. No matter how much the title means to us, we wouldn’t wish for an advantage in this way over any team, and I wish Eduardo a speedy recovery.
The waves of sickness that passed over me in February 2006 when Alan Smith lay on the ground at Anfield were no longer a distant memory. United fans have felt first hand what it is like to see your player suffer a horrific injury, with the Smith incident overshadowing what should have been the worst moment of the season, getting knocked out of the FA Cup by Liverpool. That feeling of dread, fear and sickness is not one I’d hope for any set of fans to endure.
It was only after watching United’s 5-1 annihilation of Newcastle that I started to hear the shocking comments coming through from Wenger. “I think this guy should never play football again. What’s he doing on the pitch?” fumed Wenger. “I’ve gone along with the idea for a long time that to stop Arsenal, you have to kick Arsenal. I knew that was coming for a long time now.” The irony these comments bring, just seven days after Arsenal players kicked United all over the field, seems lost on Wenger.
Just seven days before making these comments, Arsenal had seen one of their players sent off for jumping in to one of United’s, studs showing. Eboue made no effort to try and win the ball, he only had one thing in mind, going for the player. Patrice Evra is fortunate he isn’t lying in a hospital ward with broken bones, no thanks to the poor challenge of the Arsenal player. Should he be served a life time ban from the game?
At 4-0, Nani showboated exquisitely, highlighting what talent he has. The Arsenal players took offence to this, as if the scoreline wasn’t a big enough humiliation, with several of their players kicking out at him. Gallas kicked Nani, I suppose that was the only way he could stop him, and again, our Portuguese winger is fortunate he suffered no broken bones. With Alan Smith breaking his bones after falling awkwardly when a ball hit him, Gallas purposefully kicking Nani could have any number of consequences.
There are several differences between the events of United vs Arsenal and Birmingham vs Arsenal though. Firstly, the result of the challenges were very different. Eduardo is possibly looking at the end of his career, whereas Evra and Nani are just looking at a few bruises at worse. Secondly, Taylor didn’t look to be intentionally causing any harm, whereas Gallas and Eboue did. So who deserves the life time ban? The player who accidentally broke someone’s leg or the players who went out with the intention or hurting the opposition?
I reiterate the point that I feel for Eduardo and there’s not any part of me that is happy he’s suffered this injury, but Wenger’s comments have certainly irked me. For some reason, he seems to think it is OK for his players to go around kicking others but it’s an entirely different matter when it’s one of his own on the receiving end.
“We’ve got to stop these kind of tackles because otherwise someone is going to be put out of the game,” Ferguson said back in December. “The other issue is to ask whether a three-match ban is enough for these tackles? I’m wondering whether it should be more for dangerous tackles. For the sake of the game I’ve convinced myself that, even if it’s one of my players, he should get a red card. And if it’s wrong, a red card can be rescinded the next day.” To think Gallas received no punishment is ridiculous.
Eduardo’s injury highlights the problems Ferguson spoke about a couple of months ago, with it seemingly becoming more and more acceptable for players to go in hard when tackling, thanks to the lack of action from the referees. Wenger, however, needs to take a long, hard look at the behaviour of his own players before he can start criticising the behaviour of others.