Fabregas sends strong message of title hope
CESC FABREGAS has challenged Arsenal to use the latest horrific injury to a team-mate as the catalyst to win the Premier League.
Two years ago this week, the career-threatening injury suffered by Eduardo da Silva in a 2-2 draw away to Birmingham City helped to derail Arsenal's title bid. But on Saturday, Arsene Wenger's team responded to the nauseating injury suffered by Aaron Ramsey not only to win the game at the death, capitalising on Chelsea's shock defeat by Manchester City to pull within three points of the leaders, but to send out the message that, this time, they won't be wilting.
Even as Ramsey was taken away in an ambulance, and a distraught Ryan Shawcross was driven home by his mother, Fabregas proved Arsenal's mettle is stronger than ever.
With the scores level, the game dipped as if into mourning for 10 minutes or so after Shawcross's mistimed tackle broke the leg of the sublimely talented Wales player.
Then the Arsenal captain showed the courage to start dictating the play again, realising two extra points were on offer. Not only did he score the penalty that effectively secured victory in injury-time, he then summoned his team-mates into a huddle to let eve-ryone know Arsenal will not be moved.
After expressing his conviction that Arsenal are victimised, in the wake of the saddening injuries suffered by Abou Diaby, in May 2006, Eduardo and now Ramsey, Fabregas offered the more productive message that, coupled with the most accommodating run-in, suggests Arsenal could yet finish the most brilliant of champions. "We learnt from when it happened to Eduardo when that day we lost a lead," he said. "We knew if we won today, we still had a lot to say (in the title race)."
Rory Delap helped Stoke to take their customary lead against Arsenal when, for the third home match in succession against them, his long throw yielded an early goal. Shawcross flicked on and Danny Pugh, on his first Premier League start of the season, headed in at the back post.
Stoke's were unbeaten in 11 games leading into the game but they eventually tired and, once Nicklas Bendtner had equalised with a header from Fabregas's cross, they could not keep up with Arsenal. Then came the horrific moment that left Ramsey with his lower leg bent in half. Shawcross miscontrolled and, seeking to make amends, clattered into the Arsenal player, having been just beaten to the ball. Wenger, initially judging that a three-match ban for such a tackle was "just ridiculous", had the good grace to add that he wouldn't "act as the judge".
Stoke's remorse was genuine and prompt. Even on the field, they subsided and there was barely a whimper of dissent when Bendtner's flick inadvertently struck the hand of Pugh.
Given how close Pugh was to Bendtner, it should not have been a penalty, but protests were minimal. Fabregas converted and, when Thomas Vermaelen tucked in his captain's pass in injury-time Arsenal's celebrations were tellingly raucous. (© The Times, London)