11 February 2013

The Problem with Jack

Too stoic, Arsene. Make a scene.
During Arsenal's 1-0 victory over Sunderland, Wilshere went off in the 60th minute after a clumsy challenge from Alfred N'Diaye. Although it was infuriating that there was no call, and distressing to see Wilshere have to leave the field, the play itself was actually fairly benign, especially in comparison with some other plays--many of which the referee, Anthony Taylor, either chose to ignore or must not have seen. I know that few teams ever get the kind of calls they hope for, unless coached by Sir Alex, but by the time Wilshere went down, there had been far too many missed calls. Here, without getting too exhaustive, are a few of the lowlights:
  • One minute in, Ramsey gets his legs swept out from under him during a reckless tackle from Cattermole, who misses the ball entirely and catches Ramsey's legs with his hip and shoulder. The ball went to Walcott for the advantage play. A yellow card comes out for Cattermole about 30 seconds later.
  • An "impressive" sequence in the seventh minute sees Cazorla poke the ball away, only to have the Sunderland player grapple him, preventing him from getting to the ball. As Ramsey runs in to get the ball, he gets clipped (by N'Diaye, I believe) and tumbles out of bounds. Wilshere then comes over, only to be slide-tackled by Titus Bramble while Sess├Ęgnon clatters through Wilshere from behind. Wilshere pinwheeled to the ground. The tackle from Bramble was clean in that he got all ball, and Wilshere jumped only for Sess├Ęgnon to run through him as Bramble's tackle clipped his foot. Seconds later, Walcott went down as he blew past Danny Rose, Rose sticking out his foot as he fell and catching Walcott. This was arguably the worst of the sequence, coming as it did as Walcott has about to get into the 18--this tackle was just as bad as Jenkinson's would be a few seconds later and was much closer to a goal-scoring opportunity.
  • This leads to Jenkinson's first yellow, an admittedly clumsy tackle that missed the ball and caught Johnson across both legs.Proof, if nothing else, that Taylor's whistle does work and that he did bring more than one yellow-card, previous sequence notwithstanding.
Now, I'm not a professional footballer, so my reaction to such a sequence might be, well unprofessional: if I see four of my mates go down under challenges of varying degrees of legality without any call--even a caution against us for simulation--I (a) get angry enough to exact a little payback and (b) assume that the referee has a laissez-faire attitude and will tolerate a little chippiness back and forth. To ignore each of the four collisions and to give a yellow to Jenkinson ignores the very message that the referee had established in the previous minutes while also ignoring the desire of teammates to stick up for each other. Back to the hit-parade...
  • In the 10th minute, Wilshere stumbled and lost the ball, and Craig Gardner plowed into him (as with many of the preceding moments, Gardner got no part of the ball and all of Wilshere's body). Ramsey, bless his heart, proceeded to foul the next available Sunderland player. Wilshere came up limping.
  • In the 13th minute, Jenkinson got called for a foul on a 50-50 with Fletcher, looking to get more foot and less ball. Feh.
  • 15th--Monreal nudges Sessegnon just enough for a foul-call.
  • In the 18th, a call goes against Arsenal, perhaps Sagna, but we don't get to see it thanks to the spinning Premiere Logo that marks the transition from a replay on Danny Fletcher's header.
  • At the 20th minute, Wilshere draws a call for a rash challenge.
I could go go on but will rest my case for now. I'm not suggesting a double-standard, but the inconsistency with which Taylor made calls was infuriating. Arsenal players frequently suffered harsh challenges that went uncalled and were whistled for lighter or retaliatory challenges. I know Rudyard Kipling exhorted us to keep our heads about us when all about us are losing theirs and all, and I'm not asking for special protection. Look, we all know that home teams frequently get favorable calls for various reasons, but a 13-6 line? Arsenal committed more than twice as many fouls as Sunderland's rugby-er, football team? Please.

Which brings me back to Jack. He's been described variously as feisty and scrappy, code-words for "little guy who's fearless." The problem with this is that it's going to leave him vulnerable to just the sort of knocks, bruises, and worse that he's incurred since his return from his ankle injury last year.One of two three things have to happen if we expect Jack to stay on the field long-term:
  1. Wenger adopts a more Fergusonian approach to complaining about referees.
  2. Jack learns to adjust his style of play.
  3. Jack grows 5-6 inches and packs on 40-50 pounds.
The second one is the least desirable although the most effective. I love Wilshere's willingness to clatter into opponents to win the ball, his flicking off a pass at the last second, his refusal to dive. However, unless the first and third recommendations are heeded and implemented, I worry that seeing Jack in and out of the lineup will just become the order of the day.