It’s a shame to see such a talented side (managed by a visionary) fall to such depths of depravity now and then.
Remember September 2003, right before Arsenal embarked on that famous unbeaten run of 49 games (that came to a crashing end at Old Trafford, no less, thanks to a Wayne Rooney ‘dive’, as Arsenal fans would have it (I disagree)), there was this drab and downright disgraceful 0-0 draw between Arsenal and Manchester United at Old Trafford. Drab because we expected better.
Not disgraceful because the Arsenal players acted like brawlers. Heck no, beat the other team to a pulp if I care. Disgraceful because they denied that they were in the wrong, and tried to justify their actions. Arsene Wenger was with them on this, and as a manager he had to take his team’s side lest he lose their respect in the dressing room, but one wonders if this was not the famous Gunners’ arrogance the world would be familiar with soon enough?
PizzaGate followed soon after. Then Vieira and Keano squared up to each other before a match after Vieira decided to pick on Gary Neville (good thing Vieira isnt at Arsenal any more, otherwise the ‘captain’ would have needed to call upon Rooney to protect him). Ruud van Nistelrooy hit back with a stamp on Ashley Cole’s knee, and Lehmann wasn’t to be left out of the ruckus when he walked over to the corner spot and pushed over Ronaldo before sauntering back to his place.
The rivalry between the two teams is fractious, but it underscores a major point – Arsenal have a problem with accepting defeat, and a lot of it comes down to their manager. When things go wrong, as they did in 2003 when Vieira was sent off for a lunge at Ruud, they lost control. When Manchester United, weakened et al., managed to give as good as they got on the field, they started a food fight in the dressing rooms.
And on the weekend, an Arsenal team still in disbelief at its fall from grace met Tottenham at Highbury and came up short. Were it not for another Henry classic (which he celebrated – a rare occasion for Henry), that match would have been a 1-0 knockout and would haved virtually sealed Tottenham’s bid for 4th place.
As it is, that match is being remembered for the wrong reason. Arsene Wenger called it “the day fair play died in English football” – poetic, extravagant, and totally untrue.
Let’s review that incident which led to the Spurs goal and the subsequent controversy (including two bustups, one on the pitch and another on the sidelines):
Around the 65th minute, Emmanuel Eboue and Gilberto Silva tumbled into a heap on the halfway line – cue in the ref, who checked on both men and said they were fine. Michael Carrick, in possession of the ball at the time, was looking to put it out of play when the ref waved play on, passed it up to Davids, who ran down the wing, crossed it to Robbie Keane who finished a simple tap-in.
Keane reeled away in celebration, but Lehmann and Toure ganged up on Davids and started pushing him around (these guys still haven’t learned) and it was only when a Spurs player pulled Davids away that things calmed down.
Was this wrong? Should Carrick have put the ball out of play because the Arsenal men were down? They had not been felled by a Tottenham player – instead they had fell over or crashed into one another. While Wenger would later on say that Eboue was injured, the ref at the time said that they were not. What the hell would you do? Giving the ball away at this point would be stupid. Carrick did the right thing, but apparently Arsene Wenger didn’t agree.
Wenger charged Martin Jol and started shouting at him, and they had to be separated by security staff. This spurred on the crowd as well, and it took a while before things calmed down. In the press conference afterwards, Wenger was adamant that the Tottenham players were little better than cheats. He also had a go at Martin Jol, blaming him because he did not want to shake hands at the end of the match.
Ironically, about 10 minutes later after the first goal Spurs defender Michael Dawson fell down after getting hit in the head by an Arsenal player, and the Arsenal players kicked the ball out of play. Fair enough, and as it should be. Unfortunately this incident fuelled suggestions that there’s a difference in class and ethos between the two teams. Lest we forget, this is the same ‘classy’ team that has acted like thugs and whose manager has whinged about every decision that’s gone against them in a deplorable manner. Classy indeed.
Getting back to the first goal – it was unfortunate, yes. But if your own players are falling down in the middle of the park, there’s little blame you can put on the other side. There’s a fine line between gamesmanship and fair play, but this one sure as hell doesn’t cross it. If anything, the Arsenal defense were the ones to blame as they failed to close down Keane and David’s cross. It’s a harsh thing to happen, especially in such an important match but these guys have got to grow up and get on with it.
Unfortunately, the same positive attitude that fuels their style of play also went to their heads a long time back and under Arsene Wenger, much like Mourinho’s Chelsea, the Gunners are arrogant and believe that they’re a law unto themselves. For me, that just makes the Spurs goal that much more sweeter.
And for a lighter take on things, here’s a post about the same Old Trafford incident of 2003, albeit in a different light.