Sunday, July 21, 2024

Protect Bukayo Saka … from fouls and dinosaur attitudes

Morning all.

So the Premier League table after the weekend’s game looks like this:

If it wasn’t already apparent, those games against Man Utd and Sp*rs are classics of the ‘6 pointer’ genre’, and let’s not forget we have to play West Ham and Chelsea too. It looks very encouraging, no two ways about it, but there’s still a lot to do and it’s going to be a real scrap.

I don’t think this team lacks fight though. We can’t measure it but you can see when a team has it and when it doesn’t. How do they react to adversity? How do they respond to a bad result? Do they keep going right until the death when a game hasn’t quite gone to plan? We’ve seen the answers to those questions this season, and on that basis I don’t worry about our character or desire, and while they might be soft factors, they’re still important – especially at the business end of the season.

I said yesterday I was pleased to see the team’s response to another challenge which left Bukayo Saka with a hole in his foot, the blood from the injury clearly visible on the TV coverage. Via FBREF, that was the 58th foul he has suffered in the Premier League this season, making him our most fouled player by some distance. The top 5 are:

  • Saka – 58
  • Gabriel – 32
  • Lacazette – 30
  • Smith Rowe – 26
  • Ben White – 23

What’s interesting about this is that we’re the 16th most fouled team in the league, way down that particular table, and we’re 17th in the fouls committed table (yet top of the red card list!).

After the game, Saka explained what he had said to the referee on the way off at half-time:

I wasn’t complaining but I wanted to let him know that that’s my game, I’m going to run at players and sometimes I need more protection when players are purposefully trying to kick me. That’s all I was letting him know.

Good for him, and while Mikel Arteta did respond to a question about it in his post-game press conference, saying, “We have to listen to the players,” I do wish he’d been a bit stronger about it. This is a 20 year lad being booted to kingdom come every week and I’ve lost count of the times the opposition have just got away with it.

There was this:


But I think back to the Watford game and I don’t know how Danny Rose got through that without even a card. Saka was fouled 7 times in the recent game against Burnley but of course Burnley don’t get punished for their physical play because referees just kind of expect it from them. It’s been six hundred years since they had a red card, while we get them for looking askance at an official from 100 yards.

It’s not helped when someone like Steven Gerrard comes out with stuff like this:

He’s a good player, an outstanding talent. I love him. But he can’t complain about that side of it, that’s football. I’m sitting here now with screws in my hips. I’ve had about 16 operations. I’m struggling to go to the gym at the moment. That’s all on the back of earning a living in English football. He’ll learn and he’ll learn quick.

16 operations and having screws in your hips isn’t a badge of honour, for goodness sake. Yes football is physical but why you’d think ‘This is something every player should endure’ rather than ‘How can we make sure others aren’t debilitated like this’ is a very old-school English football mentality.

He continued:

He said we were too rough? So did Arsenal not commit any fouls? Listen, it’s part of the game. The last time I checked, it wasn’t a no-contact sport. I think tackles are allowed, physicality is allowed, aggression is allowed.

Except he didn’t say Villa were too rough. He never mentioned them or accused them of anything. This may have been a response to a question, because very often managers are asked things in press conferences in a way which elicits this kind of response, but even so it misses the point. Tackles are allowed, fouls are not. That’s literally the reason free kicks and yellow and red cards exist.

I also think that as Arsenal fans we’re a bit more attuned to this kind of thing than others might be. That period in the mid 00s when it became de rigueur to go in hard on our fancy-dan foreign players, the Allardyce-ation of the game, was the precursor to three of the most horrific injuries I’ve ever seen at the top level of the game. The Arsenal don’t like up ’em mentality, which was bolstered by the worst aspects of the media, dimwit troll shock-jocks and tabloid hacks, and moronic ex-pros, was directly connected leg-snapping violence inflicted on Abou Diaby, Eduardo and Aaron Ramsey.

Three players of incredible promise whose injuries didn’t just affect the season in which they happened, but their whole careers. I bet Diaby can outdo Gerrard when it comes to pins and screws and operations, but I guarantee if he was asked he’d advocate for greater protection for players rather than take this ‘Suck it up, sissy’ attitude that the Villa manager just shat out.

So, if Arsenal fans are concerned about the treatment Bukayo Saka gets, it’s because we’ve seen this before too many times, and it rarely ends well. If opposition fans or managers want to take offence at the idea that he, or any other footballer for that matter, should be offered protection from acts that directly contravene the rules of the game, it says a lot about the way they think about the sport. It’s a boxer being annoyed that he can’t punch below the belt.

Anyway, let’s hope what Saka himself said makes some difference. I’m not especially confident because there are a lot of egos at the PGMOL, and the idea that some Arsenal player is telling them what they should do probably won’t go down well, but all we can do is hope.

Right, that’s it for this morning. James and I will be recording the Arsecast Extra later on this morning so keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

Pod should be out by lunchtime. Until then, take it easy.

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