Spotlight falls on Wenger as Gunners stamp authority
Birmingham city 1
As another row rages between Arsenal and Birmingham City on the subject of foul play, there was certainly an irony last night in the arrival back in London of one Eduardo Alves da Silva.
Now with Shakhtar Donetsk, who face Arsenal in the Champions League tomorrow, Eduardo represents the most visible recent victim of reckless and dangerous tackling in English football. And, judging by the angry fall-out from Arsenal's 2-1 victory over Birmingham on Saturday, the challenge that so grotesquely damaged his leg also remains a reference point.
Birmingham have long felt that Martin Taylor has been excessively vilified for the incident and, after Arsenal's Jack Wilshere was rightly sent off on Saturday for a studs-up lunge on Nikola Zigic, they wasted no time in drawing a provocative comparison.
"Everybody saw it was a bad tackle," said Birmingham defender Roger Johnson. "It was not too dissimilar on Eduardo by Martin Taylor: ankle height, could have snapped his leg but thankfully it didn't."
Alex McLeish, the Birmingham manager, echoed Johnson's evaluation and now hopes that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will become more accepting of mistimed tackles against his own team. "Zigic is lucky -- he could have had his leg shattered similar to Eduardo," said McLeish. "Taylor still gets vilified for that today. People are still going to interview Eduardo about 'that tackle'. It's scandalous.
"I respect Arsene Wenger but it was a bad tackle and he should be drawing a line under the Taylor one because he's not a dirty player either. Jack Wilshere's was a deserved red card. He's not a dirty player but even the best can mistime tackles. You can't stop it. Hopefully it will help everyone understand when people are jumping on the bandwagon."
Birmingham's sense of grievance was not confined to the Wilshere incident, with McLeish also highlighting Samir Nasri's knee to the bottom of Liam Ridgwell and then a two-footed tackle from Emmanuel Eboue on Ridgwell that was arguably the most dangerous of the three incidents.
Johnson described Eboue's tackle as "awful" and McLeish felt that Arsenal should have finished the match with no more than nine men. "The tackle by Nasri is a sending-off for me," he said. "He's kneed the guy in the back. One of our players is going to have to get hit with a baseball bat to get a penalty. Eboue had the scissor challenge on Ridgewell. We know the damage it can do."
Wenger, though, refused to be drawn on the Eboue tackle. But he did admit that Wilshere deserved his red card and, while he was right to argue that it was mistimed rather than malicious, other managers will point out that Wenger has been rather less forgiving of their players. "Jack didn't want to injure the player," said Wenger. "You have to make a difference between an accidental red card and a team who tries to kick you from the first to the last minute. There's no comparison. No matter what we do, it's wrong. If we get kicked the whole game and do not reply, people say we are too soft. Jack made one tackle. Do you want me to show you some tackles on my players? He will learn from this."
Birmingham also felt aggrieved about the manner of Arsenal's penalty from which Samir Nasri equalised Zigic's headed goal. Television replays suggested that Marouane Chamakh was impeded by Scott Dann but then went to ground rather easily.
"Chamakh's reaction was an embarrassment," said Johnson. Wenger conceded that Chamakh "maybe made a bit more of it" but was certain that there was no dive. The controversy did not bother Chamakh and there was no argument about the way he skilfully rounded Dann, Stephen Carr and Ben Foster to ultimately clinch a valuable Arsenal victory. (© Daily Telegraph, London)