By Alex Fisher
Rivalries in football are generally due to locality but Arsenal against Stoke is fast becoming one of the Premier League's fiercest fixtures. And after another fiery encounter, things may have gone too far between the two sets of supporters.
These two clubs are 132 miles apart but, since Stoke’s promotion four seasons ago, the fixture has emerged as one of the top-flight's most intense showdowns.
Wenger’s side have only won once in their last four visits to the Britannia Stadium, and more often than not the Gunners boss has criticised the way Tony Pulis’ side play.
If the treatment dished out to Wenger, Aaron Ramsey and Ryan Shawcross during their latest encounter is anything to go by, this fixture has become more than just another game. Instead it is now something of a grudge match for both sets of fans.
The aggression in the stands was at its worst during Saturday's 1-1 draw, but the rivalry has been growing ever since the teams met back in November 2008. And it was the criticism of the treatment Stoke gave his players at the Britannia Stadium from an angry Wenger that lit the touch paper.
“The only intention is to hurt you and I can show some tackles where I can prove what I say,“ the French manager commented.
The problems escalated in February 2010 when Ramsey suffered a horrendous double leg fracture in a tackle with Shawcross. Despite there seeming to be no malice in the tackle from the Stoke defender, as far as Wenger was concerned it just proved everything he had previously said about Stoke.
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The animosity between both sets of fans following that injury is still there two years later and appeared to be the root of all the chanting at the Britannia Stadium. Shawcross was subject to chants throughout the 90 minutes from the Arsenal fans, with the Stoke fans returning the favour in their treatment of Ramsey.
Stoke boss Tony Pulis refused to comment on the treatment of Ramsey, instead wanting to highlight the attention given to Shawcross by the Gunners' fans. He did however empathise with Wenger, and admitted managers are on the receiving end of abuse throughout the country.
"It’s very difficult for us all, I go to grounds and get abused, you have to accept it as a manager, should you accept it? I don’t know, you should speak to the police.
“I don’t think it’s just Arsene, it goes on, is it acceptable? The powers that be have to decide that, not us.”
Wenger brushed off the attention he received but did question the treatment Ramsey was given, saying: “I don’t think you can be especially proud to boo Aaron Ramsey, I don’t see what he has done wrong in his behaviour but that’s an old story where the fans of Stoke stick behind their player. It shouldn’t go as far as booing Aaron Ramsey.”
|Stoke v Arsenal
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Understandably Wenger’s comments incensed Stoke, so much so that they went as far as writing to the Football Association to complain. However, the fans' reaction to his comments was to introduce a new song to the Britannia repertoire – England rugby song “swing low, sweet chariot”.
If other comments surrounding this fixture had been met with a similarly light-hearted response, we may not have the problems we now do.
At the end of 2010 Pulis revealed the breakdown in his relationship with Wenger, but always called for support rather than abuse to be dished out.
“I don’t give a damn what he [Wenger] says,” Pulis said at the time. “We don’t talk. I don’t know the fella – but if he criticises this club for whatever reason then you have to stand up for yourself.
“My message to the fans is to respect our opponents like we always do.”
There is no doubt that these two clubs have issues with each other, but things may have started to go a little too far and will need to be addressed before the bad feeling spirals into chaos.
Pulis attempted to douse the flames in his post-match press conference by praising the north London outfit, saying: “Arsenal, for me, are a very famous and great football club, they are one of the great world clubs."
Whether this will ameliorate the problem is another matter, as the undercurrents that have made this one of the Premier League’s most fiercely contested fixtures rumble on.
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