Arsene Wenger has long been a critic of bad tackles. He insists that he loves the English game when it is played the right way, at a high intensity with fair tackles being put in, after all, he believes that a good tackle is an art form. However, when Wenger sees what looks like a bad or mistimed tackle being put in, and especially if one of his players is injured as a result, then he is damning in his verdict. The most recent example followed this weekends’ Premier League fixtures when Arsenal played Bolton, Paul Robinson put in a tackle on Abou Diaby which went unpunished but forced Diaby off the pitch and has left him injured for a so far unspecified amount of time. The Guardian quotes Wenger as stating,
“The tackle was very bad. I cannot protect the players; only the FA can do that. I love the English game but people are more interested in controversy than protecting players.”
Wenger goes on to say he doesn’t know whether his views are taken seriously, and believes he is the lone voice in his crusade against bad tackles. Wenger’s position is understandable, in the past few years he has seen Diaby, Eduardo and Aaron Ramsey struck by sickening injuries that are hard for any manager to bear. But is Wenger actually achieving anything when he talks about this subject? And conversely does it negatively affect the mentality of his players?
When Antonio Valencia’s season was ended by Rangers’ Kirk Broadfoot in Tuesday’s Champions League game, Sir Alex Ferguson did not attack Broadfoot or complain about bad tackles. Mark Hughes did likewise when Bobby Zamora suffered a broken leg at the hands of Wolves’ Karl Henry. These tackles may not have been as bad as the ones that caused Arsenal’s broken legs, but you imagine Wenger would have been seething nonetheless and would have reiterated his determination to stamp out bad tackling from the game. Sometimes a tackle is just mistimed, and unfortunately it is a part of football that will never go away, no matter how much Wenger complains about it.
Wenger’s words have given Arsenal a mentality of victimhood, that teams they play are over physical and players go in hard on purpose in order to ‘rough them up’. Whatever Wenger says he is not going to change the laws of the game, neither is he likely to get the protection he seeks for players from the FA. The problem is that his statements probably have a negative influence on his squad. The players will see themselves as victims of brutes and thugs trying to hurt them, and this cannot have positive affect on their mindset within games. It is true that much of Arsenal’s squad is on the small side, but Darren Fletcher is hardly a hulking behemoth and he doesn’t have any problems physically, or with putting a hard tackle in.
Barring tackles that are genuinely malicious, Arsene Wenger might be advised to be a bit quieter on the ‘bad tackles’ front. In recent years Arsenal have looked weak mentally on occasion and against Manchester United and Chelsea, you almost sense their has been an inferiority complex. Wenger might be better off getting it into the players minds that they aren’t the weak pansies that some make them out to be, you do not need to be 6ft 5 and weigh 14 stone hold your own physically, and it might give them that mental edge they need to push on. It might just be a better use of Wenger’s breath if he did so.