Eduardo ready for return to scene of the crime
WHEN Ryan Shawcross snapped Aaron Ramsey's leg in two places last month, the prevailing wisdom was that Arsene Wenger might have gone too far in his condemnation of a tackle that was essentially reckless rather than malicious.
It is a point of view to which the best possible riposte is the sad case of Eduardo da Silva, Ramsey's Arsenal team-mate.
More than two years have elapsed since Eduardo suffered a broken leg and dislocated ankle under the force of a similarly wild tackle and, while he will return today to St Andrew's for the first time since that incident, no one is yet ready to pretend that his road to recovery is complete. Not even Wenger.
"I believe he is still on his way back and not completely back to where he was before, but the signs are positive," the Arsenal manager said. "I knew it would take him a long time -- he had a second operation at the end of last season and he has also had a few muscle problems. I felt for a while that he had not completely found his sharpness, but in training over the last two or three weeks he has shown he is getting it back. Mentally, he is convinced he is over it. Playing at Birmingham is an opportunity for him to get over it completely; to be confronted by something that happens to you like that is always good."
With Eduardo departing in an ambulance on his only previous visit, Wenger accepts that he may have a "weight in his mind" as the team coach pulls into the stadium at about 1.30 today.
"He is adamant, though, that the Croatian has the mental strength to deal with such distressing memories.
"He has just to prepare his mind to deal with that," Wenger said. "It is like you drive the same way every day in your car; one day you have an accident. Afterwards, you cannot go this way anymore. You have to live with it. Life goes on.
"It is only one time in the 1,000 times he played which he had an accident.
"It happened at Birmingham, but could have happened somewhere else."
There is also the issue of the potential wider impact of dropped points today on Arsenal, especially given that the unravelling of their title challenge during the 2007-08 season basically began with Eduardo's injury.
An injury-time Birmingham equaliser that day left then captain William Gallas staging a bizarre sit-down protest and Arsenal went on to win only one of their next seven league matches.
Considerable hope, however, can be derived from the way Arsenal have responded this season with such renewed purpose -- and five straight wins -- to the similarly traumatic Ramsey injury. Wenger is adamant that his young team are now showing additional maturity, but he also does not regard the Eduardo incident as the central explanation for Arsenal's decline two years ago.
"It was a dark day, but not the darkest," he said. "Gallas did not behave the way he should have done, but he behaved like that because he cared.
"Ideally, you do not want to show any weakness. We did not lose the championship that day, but it created some unrest. People always pick out one isolated incident and think it's all down to that. We did not deal with it well on the day, but there were much heavier ingredients, like some players being not completely focused. Afterwards, we had players who were at the end of contracts."
As well as Gael Clichy giving away a late penalty from which James McFadden equalised, another key moment came when Emanuel Adebayor chose to shoot rather than pass to Nicklas Bendtner, who was free in front of an open goal, which would have made the score 3-1 with time almost up.
Had the chance presented itself in recent months, many would feel that a goal was no foregone conclusion. However, Wenger has backed the in-form Danish striker to maintain his recent run as he faces the club for whom he scored 13 goals while on loan in the 2006-07 season.
"I saw Nicklas Bendtner in the reserves and he had an impact in the games," the Arsenal manager recalled, "but you felt as well that he needed to go somewhere to toughen up.
"There is no better place in the world than the Championship to give a player a realistic view of how hard this job is.
"He went there and, in fairness to him, he became a regular player straight away -- that shows you he has the qualities to survive at the top level as he has done recently."
Martin Taylor, meanwhile, whose tackle inflicted such damage on Eduardo, has since moved on loan to Watford and Wenger does not expect to hear his name chanted this afternoon, as was the case when Birmingham supporters sang what he called "atrocious" songs at the Emirates earlier this season.
Some 763 days have since passed, but Wenger also stressed that he has not "mellowed" in his condemnation of Taylor's tackle. The experience of spending so many of those days working with Eduardo has seen to that. (© Daily Telegraph, London)