Photo from RedAction Arsenal supporters group. No infringement or commercial gain intended
Admittedly it's been a while since I've posted. I didn't get to say anything about the huge first leg win against Barcelona, so I'll have to wait until after the second leg to share my thoughts. Instead, here's Stoke.
It's been just slightly less than a year since the last time Arsenal played Stoke City. It's been just slightly less than a year since the last time Aaron Ramsey played for Arsenal. On February 27 of last year, Ryan Shawcross broke Ramsey's leg, and today Arsenal will finally get a chance to exact some revenge on the pitch, rather than via the media sniping than managers Wenger and Pulis have engaged in sporadically through the interval, or via comedians' rants.
This is the Arsenal of 2011 so the revenge will ostensibly be through the avenue of an avalanche of goals, rather than through more primitive means. Both Robin van Persie and Laurent Koscielny will miss the match with (supposedly) minor injuries, but I hope that the remaining team will take this opportunity to avenge one of their own seriously. It would appear that the support at the Emirates will be.
Obviously when a side suffers injuries like Ramsey's, and Eduardo's in 2008, tackling will be a sore subject. Prevailing wisdom is that the best way to stop Arsenal's passing/possession game is to rough them up, and that's what most teams try to do against them. Whether there's intent to injure or whether those involved are "that kind of player" is irrelevant. It's a reckless style of play, and it's walking a tightrope - and Arsenal have been pushed off that tightrope twice in the past few years.
The fact that Arsenal are subject to so much dangerous play makes certain of the opposition's chants and claims particularly galling. Surely you're already familiar with the "same old Arsenal, always cheating" refrain that rains upon our boys' heads whenever they're knocked, or whenever they're called for a foul. It's been around forever, and as time passes it's become more and more inaccurate. In the past, Arsenal have been a rough team, and Eboue especially used to dive a bit (among others, I'm sure). But none of that really happens anymore. If one of our players does dive, now he admits it, apologizes, promises never to do it again, and gives an interview about the whole mess.
So when I hear about what's been going on amongst the followers of our next two opponents, I get pretty upset. This was taken near Stoke, and this is evidently coming from a Brum fan (leading up to the Carling Cup final this weekend). They're trying things like getting the Twitter hashtag "#dirtyarsenal" trending. As of yet, these efforts have failed, likely because Stoke and Birmingham City don't actually have any fans.*
So Arsenal are dirty then, are we? Disturbing images forthcoming, for an editorial point. So is this dirty? Ramsey was cheating then, eh Stoke? Or is this what the Birmingham fans are referring to? Yes, I suppose Eduardo was illegally in Martin Taylor's way. That's probably it.
Back when we actually were a bit dirty, there's not really anything I could say about this. But when the defensive scheme against Arsenal is "they don't like it up 'em," and when our players are suffering career-defining injuries, and THEN to be called dirty when we're not...well, honestly it incenses me. It's the equivalent of getting mugged on a city street, then accused of assault by the muggers without even fighting back.
The facts are these: Arsenal are no dirtier than any other team. They are not perfect, but they are not cheaters. On the other hand, teams like Stoke are consistently and (evidently) intentionally dangerous in their play. They are systematically dirty. They may not always get called for a foul, but anyone who's seen them play knows this to be true. For them to accuse other teams - ANY other teams, as even Newcastle, whom I despise, are FC Barcelona compared to the Potters - of being dirty is high comedy.
This is why I want revenge on Stoke and Birmingham this week. I want Aaron Ramsey and Eduardo (even though he's no longer with Arsenal) to be avenged. I want the fans calling us dirty, the ones claiming that RYAN SHAWCROSS is getting a "raw deal," the ones who mock injuries and cheer goons...I want them to suffer. I want the metaphorical blood that comes from the wound of a goal scored, rather than the very real blood of a double leg fracture or a broken leg and open dislocation. I don't want to injure a single player - not even Shawcross. But I want them to hurt.
Because there is only one Aaron Ramsey, and only one Eduardo. And they deserve better than they got.
*Yeah, the picture's a joke. It's from warm-ups. But have you ever met a real Stoke fan? That's what I thought.