April 22nd, 2006 • 1:22 pm
Talk about drama! It was a game that certainly did not reach any great heights in terms of quality—except for Thierry Henry’s goal, of course—but it was full of tension and provided a suitable side serving of controversy.
Unsurprisingly, the man at the centre of the controversy was Tottenham’s Edgar Davids. In all the games that I had seen him play for Juventus and Holland over the years, I had never liked him, and his performance this season in the English Premier League with Tottenham has certainly confirmed that he’s one unlikable football player.
It’s not just me. You only need to take a look at his disciplinary statistics. He has received an astonishingly high number of cards, and, in all the games that I have seen him play, the cards he received were certainly fully deserved.
And today, he reached even higher levels of idiocy. Not only did he manage to get himself sent off for two clear bookable offences, but he was also the player who neglected to do the sporting thing and put the ball out of play when two Arsenal players collided in midfield and one of them stayed injured on the ground.
Sure, from a purely “technical” point of view, he did not have to put the ball out of play. But we are not talking about written rules here. We’re talking about sporting behaviour. Even a complete idiot like West Ham’s Paulo DiCanio was able to do the right thing a few years back and put the ball out of play because of someone’s injury, even though he had a clear chance of scoring.
Yes, it was two Arsenal players colliding, and not two opponents. So what? On the contrary, that proves beyond doubt that the injured player was not faking his injury. After all, he couldn’t be suspected of trying to get his own team mate booked!
And, contrary to what the English commentator said, the onus was not on the referee either. As far as I know, there are no written rules about such situations. It’s only when there is clear physical danger for a player (after a clash of heads, for example) that the referee has to stop play. But in all other situations, it’s the unwritten sporting rule of fair play that dictates what the players should do.
And clearly, Mr. Davids and his team mates decided that their Champions’ League’s qualification was more important than a player’s physical well-being, and that a goal scored against 10 men, with the opposition’s right-back injured and unable to cover the side from where they scored the goal would provide clear evidence of their footballing superiority. Yeah right.
How ironic, then, that Arsenal’s equalizer came when they were down to 10 men again because the same player voluntarily went off the pitch to get some treatment! Now that proves something about the team’s abilities.
Don’t get me wrong. It is true that, for most of the first half and for a good portion of the second half, Tottenham dominated Arsenal. The possession statistics clearly tell the story. But Spurs also had a few good chances, and failed to convert them. Therefore, they did not particularly “deserve” to go ahead in the game. Football is not boxing. You don’t get points for anything other than goals.
Arsène Wenger did take a big gamble when he decided to leave Éboué, Fábregas, and Henry on the bench. But, under normal circumstances, the game would have been 0-0 when Henry and Fábregas came on, and then maybe the Gunners would have won it.
Instead, they only managed to draw level, and ran out of time. Davids got deservedly sent off, but Arsenal didn’t have enough time to take advantage of it.
It is also true that some Arsenal players, like Pirès and Lehmann, did exhibit flashes of temper (and Pirès was rightfully punished for it). But that’s to be expected in a derby game. It was more or less within the accepted unwritten rules of this type of game. What was not, I am afraid, was the Tottenham goal.
And only for that, Tottenham deserve to see their fourth spot (if they get it, which is now the more likely outcome) lead to only UEFA Cup qualification. Except that, for this to happen, of course, there is still the rather tricky matter of that return leg in Spain and then, if all goes well, a final in Paris against, ahem, Ronaldinho’s Barcelona.
There is still mathematically a chance that Tottenham will fail to get all six points from their last two games, but we’d have to count on Bolton and West Ham for this, neither of whom have much to play for anymore (except for possible UEFA Cup qualification). And the Gunners would also have to win all their remaining games, which is not a done deal.
First of all, though, they need to eliminate Villareal on Tuesday. Then they can fully focus on the EPL for a few weeks and try to make the most of the situation.