By Walter Broeckx
I must say that I did produce a big sigh of relief when the match Sutton – Arsenal ended. Not because it was a bad match. Not because I feared that we would go out. No, mostly because of no players getting injured apart from Elneny. He was tackled early in the match and the Sutton player got the ball but also made sure he got the leg of Elneny with his other leg. Of course no foul was called by the ref. I could hear him and the pundits say: “He got the ball”. Which is a ridiculous phrase in fact.
The same can be said of the tackle that Iwobi had to endure. The defender came flying in from a distance and yes he played the ball first but because of the way he came in it was a dangerous tackle. His studs were showing and he made contact with the leg of Iwobi. Iwobi was limping for the rest of the first half. This was a possible leg breaker. And not even a foul was given. Let alone a red card. Compare the way Xhaka went in against Dufour for which he got a red card. Xhaka didn’t really leave the ground when he tried his tackle and stayed on the floor. The Sutton player was on a height that was over the ball had it been on the floor. And thus much more dangerous than the same tackle over the ground. And nothing was made of it. But “he played the ball”. That would be a big consolation to any player on the receiving end when he sees his leg in a strange angle on the floor….
Compare this to the way Xhaka is being treated by the referees. Xhaka was holding a Sutton player for a moment and was immediately booked. Sutton players could do as they liked like when they were pushing Alexis away when he tried to take a quick free kick. Again the ref trying to be kind and friendly to the underdogs and to the media favourites. Now i have nothing against Sutton and I wish them well and hope they have enjoyed the day. But the task of a ref is not to facilitate cup upsets. No, it is his job to make sure the laws of the game are being followed. And sorry to say but this wasn’t always the case. And it is not because we won that we should let it go. It looked to me at times that the ref was trying too much to please the crowd and the media.
I know from my own experience how difficult artificial pitches are. As a ref I always grind me teeth when I see that I have to do a match on an artificial pitch. Okay it has one big advantage over grass pitches. That is that you are sure it will be a flat pitch. And not a pitch where you wonder if they have just harvested whatever was grown a few days before. That might be a bit exagerated but some pitches are so bad you can break your ankles by just running on it.
But I grind my teeth because I know it will be painful. I have a chronic knee injury that has forced me down the leagues a bit over the last years. So having pain during a match and after is normal for me. It is a free choice and one that my doctor let me make myself. I will need a new knee one day but as I am too young they will not operate me yet. So he said to : as your knee is ruined, it can’t get any worse so if you can stand the pain and like to live with it I will not forbid you to continue. We will see eachother anyway on the operation table in the future, if I continue doing my matches or not.
The choice was and is easy. But not on artificial pitches. Because I can be sure that even during the match the pain levels will go up to a higher level than on a grass pitch. And because I know for sure that I will have more pain for at least half a week more compared to doing a match on grass. I really don’t know how it comes but I experience it each time. Even on the newest pitches.
Not playing Welbeck was a real smart move. He has suffered knee injuries in the last two seasons so he was a player that would have experienced the impact of such a pitch more than others who haven’t had much troubles with their knees. So I was happy with only 1 injury at the end of the match. And the win of course.
A win that never really was in doubt during the match. We tried to take no risks and do enough to qualify. Some youngsters got a run out. Adelaide from the start but he also was having some problems with the pitch I think. Because one of the difficult things to do on an artificial pitch is to “read the ball”. On a grass pitch you know how hard you should kick a ball to take it to where you want to take it. But this is different on such pitches. So lots of overhit passes that looked promising but couldn’t find the man in the end. I think Oxlade-Chamberlain made a few passes that on a natural pitch might have found a team mate. Now it just speeded out of reach of the Arsenal players.
Holding had his decent match that we are used to whenever he is called upon. And later on Maitland-Niles came on and he once again impressed with a good solid performance.
So overall it was a rather pleasing final result that will see us host Lincoln in a few weeks time. I’m sure the media will be up in arms again to hope for a big upset. Let us let them bite their lips at the end. And if we do so we are on our way to Wembley. But lets take it one step at the time.