Aaron Ramsey was recovering from surgery to mend an horrific double leg break as Arsene Wenger claimed that his new generation of Arsenal stars are in danger of being 'destroyed'.
Ramsey was taken to hospital on Saturday night following a second-half challenge from Stoke's Ryan Shawcross that shattered the tibia and fibula in his right leg.
The 19-year-old Wales midfielder had a corrective operation to stabilise the leg and pin the bones back together, and was kept in overnight before travelling back to London with Arsenal's team doctor Gary O'Driscoll on Sunday.
Shattered: Arsenal players and Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross (far right) look stunned as Aaron Ramsey lies in agony on the pitch and is comforted by Glenn Whelan (No 6)
Although the early indications are that Ramsey will be out for up to eight months, the break is higher up his leg than a similar injury suffered two years ago by team-mate Eduardo, who had the added complication of a dislocated ankle.
Stoke put out a statement from Shawcross, conscious of the criticism Birmingham incurred when they failed to react to Martin Taylor's challenge on Eduardo.
Spot on: Fabregas gives the Gunners the lead at the Britannia Stadium
It stopped short of an apology, with Stoke and their player adamant that his attempt to win the ball in the 66th minute was mistimed rather than malicious, even though referee Peter Walton gave him a red card. Replays appear to support their case, but that will be of little consolation to Wenger. Two years ago the Arsenal boss had called for Taylor to be kicked out of football before quickly retracting his comments.
He was more restrained on Saturday but could still not hide his anger after Ramsey joined Eduardo and Abou Diaby on the Arsenal list of players who have had bad breaks.
Wenger said: 'Today in midfield we had Nasri, Fabregas, Ramsey, Eboue – an average age of 21. Up front, Bendtner is 20 years old. What these guys do, at that age, is remarkable. To handle the game like they handle it. But of course if you destroy them, they might not be football players.
Tears: Ryan Shawcross of Stoke City is consoled by team mate Thomas Sorensen as he leaves the pitch after being sent off for a challenge on Aaron Ramsey
'What is most terrible for me is that Ramsey starts his career with a double operation and you never know what kind of consequences this will have on his physical side of the game and his psychological side of the game. It's just scandalous.
'He's not the first player to get an horrendous injury and it's always a coincidence. I don't believe in coincidences. This tackle was horrendous. It was not acceptable. In my time as manager here, none of my players ever broke the leg of anybody.'
He stoops to conquer: Danny Pugh puts Stoke ahead
Shawcross left the pitch in tears and was driven home by his mother. The incident overshadowed his first senior England call-up, and in his statement he insisted: 'There was absolutely no malice in the challenge. I would never, ever go out to hurt a fellow professional.
'I am deeply upset that Aaron has suffered such a bad injury and my thoughts are with him. I would like to send him my best wishes for a speedy recovery.'
Agony: Aaron Ramsey has suffered a suspected broken leg
Stoke boss Tony Pulis hit back at his Arsenal rival, insisting: 'I know my players better than Wenger. I wouldn't give tuppence for his opinions in respect of Ryan as a person because he doesn't know the kid.'
Danny Pugh put Stoke ahead and Nicklas Bendtner equalised before Ramsey's injury. Late goals by Cesc Fabregas, from the spot, and Thomas Vermaelen secured the win.
Wenger, whose side trail Chelsea by three points, believes Ramsey's setback could be the making of them. 'It will be tight to the end but it gives us one more reason to be strong, united and to fight until the finish to do it for Aaron,' he said.
DAVID BECKHAM has dismissed fears that Wayne Rooney will be mentally and physically burnt out for the World Cup finals this summer.
Beckham believes if Rooney can maintain his hot streak, he could become the first Englishman to lift both the Ballon d’Or and FIFA’s World Player of the Year awards at the same time.
Rooney is in the form of his life, his two goals against Beckham’s AC Milan in the San Siro on Tuesday taking him past his previous personal best for a season of 23 and well on course to smash the 30 mark for the first time. The one concern is that with Rooney being so crucial to Manchester United’s push for honours on three fronts, there could be nothing left in the tank when Fabio Capello takes his squad to South Africa in June.
Rooney has so far clocked up 38 appearances for club and country this season. That tally could reach nearly 60 if United get to the Champions League final on May 22.
But Beckham, who knows a thing or two about marathon campaigns, believes Rooney’s young legs, enthusiasm and adrenaline will carry him through.
“Burn-out won’t be a problem,” said Beckham. “Wayne is ready for any game. It doesn’t matter how many games he has played or how many he will be involved in to the end of the season. He will be ready for anything.
“Of course he can sustain this level until the middle of July. He should be able to – he is only 24 after all.
“He looks after himself and he works hard. The way he plays on the field is the way he plays in training and that is why he is so good.”
Rooney has scored 25 goals in all competitions this season, 17 coming in his last 17 games, and while Beckham hopes the streak comes to a temporary halt when Milan bid to retrieve a 3-2 deficit at Old Trafford on March 10, he is praying Rooney carries on scoring both for United and England, right through to a possible World Cup final appearance in July.
“Wayne was exceptional against us,” he said. “You give him chances and he will score goals. That is the way he is. That is the way his mind works. He was great.
“I wouldn’t like to see him do it again against us at Old Trafford next month, but I’d like it in the World Cup.
“Without a doubt he is one of the best goalscorers in the world. If he continues to do that then United will be even more successful than they are already. I have seen him since he was a young lad. I played when he made his debut for England and I have watched him score goals week-in, week-out and do it at the highest level. It’s amazing to see.
“I hope he is a contender for the World Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or. I would love to see him win every title possible.”
Beckham revealed how highly Rooney is rated in Italy, especially in Milan, where they have great respect for English players following the efforts of Ray Wilkins and Mark Hateley for the club in the Eighties.
“Wayne is looked upon as a great player in Italy. That is all the Italian people care about, whether he is doing the right thing and scoring goals. They see him scoring goals and working hard. The Italian people, and Milan fans especially, love people who work hard.”
Despite his lavish praise of Rooney, Beckham has warned his old club that Clarence Seedorf’s late goal means the last-16 tie is far from finished. And Beckham was left frustrated that Milan squandered chances to build on Ronaldinho’s early goal before United raced into a 3-1 lead.
“It is not over,” he said. “The second goal helps us out, but we know how difficult it is going to be. Nobody gets gifts when they go to Old Trafford. United have quality right through their side. We are going to have to work hard and play well and if we do that we have a chance.
“But you have to put your chances away, especially against a team such as United and a player such as Rooney.”
Beckham is expecting some retribution from Paul Scholes in the second leg after a clumsy challenge on his old team-mate.
He said: “It’s always good to get Scholesy first, but it was just a mistimed tackle. He just got back up again, but I’m sure if he gets the chance in the second leg, he’ll get me back.”