A "proud but sad" Arsène Wenger last night accused the Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross of a "horrendous" challenge which left Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal's 19-year-old Welsh midfielder, with a shattered right leg that may require emergency surgery. Barely an hour after the game, Shawcross was named in the England squad for the first time.
The Arsenal manager, whose side scored two late goals to move to within three points of the Premier League summit after Ramsey departed on a stretcher and a tearful Shawcross was sent off midway through the second half, drew parallels with Eduardo's injury in a reckless lunge by Martin Taylor at Birmingham two years ago this month.
"We've now lost three players, Eduardo, Aaron Ramsey and Abou Diaby, to horrendous challenges," Wenger said. "I refuse to believe it's a coincidence. I'm just shocked because that isn't football to me. People have to respect the rules, and respect each other, and the players who don't do that should be punished. For a boy of 19 with his talent to be kicked out of the game is beyond words. I can't enjoy the win."
Addressing the press pointedly, he added: "Spare me the articles about how nice Shawcross is because the same thing happened [with Taylor] after Eduardo's injury."
However, the Stoke manager, Tony Pulis, said: "Ryan comes from a lovely family and he's a smashing kid. There's no way in a million years he would ever go out to break someone's leg. I signed him when he was 19 and there is no bad blood in him whatsoever. He has come off the pitch broken-hearted. His mum picked him up straight away and took him home.
"The game pales into insignificance when something like that happens. We send our condolences to Aaron Ramsey. Being a fellow Welshman, I'm devastated. He's a terrific talent."
A game that had started thrillingly, with Danny Pugh putting Stoke ahead with their 11th goal this season from a Rory Delap throw-in and Arsenal replying from Nicklas Bendtner's header, seemed to be drifting towards a draw after Ramsey's injury. Then, with Stoke's 10 men forced ever deeper in defence of their unbeaten record in 2010, Pugh handled Bendtner's pass and Cesc Fabregas converted the penalty. Arsenal knew they had narrowed the gap on Chelsea and Manchester United – with the easiest run-in ahead. Thomas Vermaelen struck from point-blank range in stoppage time to embellish the win.
In their previous two visits to this venue, in the League last season and the FA Cup a month ago, Arsenal's defeats were sparked by goals stemming from Delap's projectiles. What happened in the eighth minute suggested they still had no idea how to counter the ploy. Delap launched a typically long, flat throw which found Shawcross rising to glance the ball to the far post. Pugh, almost kneeling by the upright, heading his first League goal in more than three years.
Wenger protested to the fourth official about the time being eaten up when Delap crossed the pitch from his right-side midfield role to take another throw, and again when the Irishman wiped the ball with great deliberation before the next delivery.
Arsenal's formation was not, ostensibly, an attacking one. Yet Bacary Sagna and Gaël Clichy pushed forward on the flanks, forcing Pugh and Delap to track back with them, while Fabregas began to impose his authority in midfield. The Spaniard's 30-yard volley forced a sprawling save from Thomas Sorensen and he was again involved as Arsenal drew level.
The goal had its origins, ironically, in a throw-in on the Arsenal right from which Sagna found Fabregas with time to look up and cross into the heart of the penalty area. Bendtner, rising between Shawcross and Andy Wilkinson, planted a header beyond Sorensen.
Arsenal increasingly dominated possession in the second half when Shawcross's ill-judged left-footed challenge left Ramsey crumpled on the turf. The reaction of the Arsenal players, turning away with their hands covering their mouths, testified to the severity of the injury.
Referee: Peter Walton
Man of the match: Fabregas
Match rating: 7/10