Arsenal’s 1-0 victory over Stoke City on Saturday saw the return of Ryan Shawcross to the Emirates where he faced boos and jeering from the opposition’s fans, who have yet to forget him his tackle back in 2010 in which Aaron Ramsey suffered a broken leg.
However, it seems the Stoke defender was unfazed by the reception he received in North London, as he lunged into a similar challenge on Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny late in the second half.
Shawcross was booked for the challenge which wasn’t altogether dissimilar from the challenge that saw Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany sent off against the Gunners at the end of their clash at the Emirates just a few weeks ago.
Managers and pundits alike leaped to the defence of Kompany who eventually had his red card and ban rescinded by the FA as replays clearly show he touched the ball before the man, England youngster Jack Wilshere.
However, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes that Shawcross should have been sent off for his challenge last weekend. He did, however, admit that his judgment is perhaps clouded when Ryan Shawcross is in question, referring to the incident almost three years ago with Ramsey.
I have just watched the slow-motion replays of the tackle on Saturday back and from whichever angle you view it from, it does appear to be, at the very least, mistimed.
It is a 50/50 situation in which both players are clearly going for the ball and both are sliding in – collision is the likely outcome. But it just looks as though Shawcross has learned nothing from the Ramsey incident at the Britannia after which he left the field in tears.
Arsenal fans will likely never forgive or forget that challenge and the backlash that followed it from both sides – there is certainly no love lost between Arsene Wenger and Tony Pulis – but I think it’s actually conceivable that either player could have received a red card on Saturday when they slid in on each other.
Objectively, it was a 50/50 by definition – Shawcross had left his position in Stoke’s backline and was racing into the Arsenal half to chase down a misplaced pass.
Koscielny leaves his position to clear the danger. Koscielny goes to ground first in what looks like an attempt to hook the ball out and clear but, before he knows it, the full weight of Shawcross is slammed into his knee at speed.
However, in Shawcross’ defence, he’s gone in with one foot leading and one foot trailing underneath him and he is going for the ball, not the man. The problem is, Koscielny actually makes contact with the ball and Shawcross doesn’t. Instead his studs catch Koscielny in the knee.
This is where, in my humble opinion, the rules don’t protect the players enough – I believe Shawcross gets a booking for a mistimed and strong challenge and I think it’s correct that he doesn’t get a red for it under the current rules. It’s just clumsy. However, as Aaron Ramsey knows all too well, clumsy can do some damage. Late and clumsy can do even worse.
The rules don’t account properly, fairly and effectively for misjudgement at present – yes, it’s a contact sport and we all love the physicality and the competition but, by definition, a 50/50 challenge means sometimes you get the ball and sometimes you don’t and that can have career threatening consequences for players.
Managers and commentators that like the rough and tough edge of the game more than I, like Sam Allardyce for example, placate the press about how they teach defenders to be 100 per cent sure they can win the ball. The arithmetic skills of these people is a little off – you cannot be 100 per cent sure in a 50/50 challenge.
Kompany had his red rescinded because it’s clear he gets the ball before the player. Shawcross gets none of the ball and all of the player and gets away with a booking. With his previous record, one would have thought he’d have known better.
The only 100 per cent certainty here is that if he, and others like him, continue to make poor and reckless challenges without serious repercussion from referees, it’s only a matter of time before someone gets serious hurt. Again.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald