Birmingham City 2 Arsenal 2: Eduardo receptive to Taylor's mercy visit
Monday 25 February 2008
His manager at Blackburn once told Martin Taylor that all he lacked was a bit of physical spite. At 6ft 4in, he had the build of a bully, but not the mind of one.
Taylor was "the perfect son-in-law". And, being Graeme Souness, he did not particularly intend it as a compliment. If Taylor seemed to forfeit that image on Saturday, when his tackle caused grotesque injury to Eduardo da Silva, then he has certainly been doing his utmost to restore it since. He first tried to see Eduardo in hospital the same evening, but found the Arsenal striker in surgery to set his broken shin, fibula and ankle. Taylor returned yesterday morning, and while Eduardo was still drowsy, he proved receptive to his visitor.
Nor, it seems, did the Arsenal manager fail to recognise Taylor's authentic despair. Having initially declared that the Birmingham defender should never play again, Arsène Wenger did not even have to sleep on his remarks before retracting them. Eduardo has now been transferred to a London hospital, where he will today spend his 25th birthday contemplating the terrifying crossroads that divides Alan Smith, playing a year after a similar injury in 2006, from David Busst, forced into retirement after a compound fracture 10 years earlier.
When something as frivolous as a football match asks such harrowing questions of those involved, the duty of compassion extends beyond this helpless young man, exposed so suddenly to the fragility of his talents. His injury was caused by one, catastrophic misjudgement, moments into the game. But other, lesser ones rippled across the afternoon, and could alter the pattern of Arsenal's season.
On the day, the threads of reason were stretched so far that snap judgements became inevitable. None was more literal, of course, than Taylor's elephantine tackle, which snapped Eduardo's left leg like a dry twig. Thereafter, logic became stretched between acrimony and attrition.
When the home side, reduced to 10 by Taylor's red card, were awarded a 94th-minute penalty, William Gallas flounced 100 yards before launching a karate kick at the advertising boards. After the final whistle, the Arsenal captain sat on the pitch, refusing to budge until finally approached by Wenger. It was impossible to know whether he was livid with Gaël Clichy, for dozing at a critical moment, or with the referee. Either way, Gallas was struggling to retrieve his bearings in the visceral tide of events.
Even Wenger must have found it difficult to make the result matter again at half-time, when his team had collectively succumbed to nausea. Yet Wenger managed to channel his team's indignation into a tempest of ambition after the break.
They had somehow gone in a goal down, James McFadden's free-kick restoring grace to a disfigured occasion. Another of Wenger's young protégés, Theo Walcott, promptly scored that first Premiee League goal, long overdue, and six minutes later added a second.
Wenger will need plenty more of the same, from Gallas down to Walcott, in the weeks ahead. Sir Alex Ferguson, for one, will have been intrigued by hints of mental vulnerability in the League leaders. While he later qualified his remarks about Taylor as made "in the heat of the moment", Wenger would presumably stand by his broader observations. "The idea has been going around that to stop us you have to kick us," he said. "It is beyond belief for players to go into games with that idea.
"There's a very fine line between being competitive and over the top. That is why the spirit is important. You accept the risk of an injury. But look at the tackle again and see where the leg goes first. If you want to tackle, you don't put your foot up like that. You go on the ground. Of course, if you answer violence with violence, where do we go? We want to play football."
The Birmingham manager, Alex McLeish, rejected any caricature of his players in general, or Taylor in particular, as unduly venomous. A genuinely physical team would have dealt much better with Sunderland and Bolton. "Those were two games where we were bullied," he said. "Sometimes we are a little bit soft. We're a young side."
McLeish would sooner have discussed their spirit in adversity, McFadden rounding off the keynote contribution with that nerveless penalty. Instead he was obliged to discuss a man who had spent three minutes on the pitch. "Martin is absolutely gutted," he said. "Eduardo was just too quick for him. I didn't think it was malicious. He has come down on his ankle with studs and his standing foot is in the turf, and that can make the injury much worse. People in the game know Martin, and I'm sure he will get their support because he's hurting. Martin would always go for the ball honestly.
"I watch football and look at challenges and cringe. Every time you hear a clash of studs, or impact with shin guards, you think someone's leg is broken. The speed of the game means things like that can happen."
Goals: McFadden (28) 1-0; Walcott (50) 1-1; Walcott (55) 1-2; McFadden (90) 2-2.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Kelly, Martin Taylor, Ridgewell, Murphy; Larsson (Nafti, 66), Johnson, Muamba, Kapo (Zarate, 59); McFadden, Forssell (Parnaby, 15). Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), Jerome.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Senderos, Clichy; Walcott (Denilson, 89), Fabregas, Flamini, Hleb (Gilberto, 89); Eduardo (Bendtner, 8), Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Lehmann (gk), Justin Hoyte.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Booked: Arsenal Sagna, Gallas.
Sent off: Martin Taylor (3).
Man of the match: McFadden
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