It was the maddest moment of one of the craziest games I have ever not seen. The injury to Eduardo meant that the game ran over Doyle’s allotted recording time and so as I pulled on my coat to leave with Arsenal up 2-1, I finished my beer and Russ said, “do you know what happened?” Then he told me how Arsenal gave up a penalty in the last minute and of Gallas’ reaction and I knew then that this would be one of the biggest games of the season. I rushed home to check the post-match interviews and fall out: it was bigger than I thought, it was like an atom-bomb had gone off in the dressing room. Wenger had branded Taylor a dirty player, Gallas had lashed out at the advertising on the sidelines, and Eduardo’s leg was being sewn back together.
It’s a game that should have been remembered as the day that Theo Walcott announced himself, scoring his first league goal to equalize and then scoring the second goal to go ahead after an amazing run. But instead of the articles praising Walcott — who clearly has a penchant for scoring in controversial games as his first Arsenal goal came in the Carling Cup final against Chelsea — there was no shortage of negative press about Arsenal’s Gallic protests.
The English press are normally biased against the Gunners, which I maintain is attributed to the fact that the English are still upset that the French ruled them for hundreds of years and forced their language on them, but the post-match feeding frenzy after this match was the high water mark of anti-Arsenal press. I’m still upset that the English press refused to use the active voice when describing Taylor’s tackle on Eduardo. To this day they describe the incident as “Eduardo broke his leg.” It is an intentionally deceptive statement and is like describing a drive-by shooting by saying “the innocent bystander shot himself.”
I won’t even go down the road of the god damn sympathetic press that Martin Taylor got. Or about how English managers like Steve Bruce said things like Taylor’s tackle wasn’t even a yellow card. Suffice it to say that pretty much every article and opinion piece focused on what poor losers Arsenal are, what a horrible person William Gallas is for showing his emotion and on and on.
Lost in all that was the fact that Eduardo nearly lost his leg to a horrible tackle from Martin Taylor. Something which he has only recently (sort of) come back from. The team, though, has not recovered.
At the time of the Birmingham match, Arsenal were leading the league by 6 points. After the match they fell into a pattern we have become all too familiar with this season: play teams like Villa or ‘Boro or Wigan and get 0-0 or 1-1 draws, punctuated by incredible wins like the 2-0 over AC Milan, only to come back and slip against Premiership opponents. Draw, draw, win, draw, draw, loss, win, draw, draw, loss, loss — from toast of the world to also rans: in the span of a few weeks Arsenal are knocked out of all 4 competitions and it all goes back to this one moment in Birmingham.
Birmingham showed the character of the team in that when the chips are down Arsenal gives up, starts in-fighting, and is more likely to take their frustrations out on an advertising hoarding than on their opponent’s net. That said, there might yet be a silver lining here. Because as I write this Eduardo is probably working out somewhere, trying to get fit to play again.
And Eduardo’s comeback from Taylor’s near career ending tackle should be a point of inspiration for this team. Eduardo’s hard work, determination, and courage to even get back on the pitch after such a horrific event should show these young men what it means to really love the game.
If it doesn’t then nothing ever will.
It was difficult to pick this as the #2 best/worst moment of 2008 because it is obviously such an influential moment but there was one thing that shaped Arsenal’s year even more than Taylor’s tackle on Eduardo.