who was a bit surprised when Arsenal held their hands
up and didn’t appeal the FA’s disciplinary
actions following “that game at old Trafford”.
Moi, aussi. There is a well known managerial principle:
Stick up for your team in public, bollock them privately
(that may not be verbatim from the Columbia MBA syllabus,
but it’s close enough). And Brum is the first
game we go into with those suspensions in full effect.
Volz has not been hauled back from the cottage and,
as I write, speculation about whether Arsene will
finally blood a youngster or two is on the widespread
side of rife.
Of course Arsenal did deserve punishment for what
happened at Old Trafford. I don’t think their
admission of guilt is any more sinister than that
– a fair cop. But is it fair to also say that
the FA need to bring in stricter punishment for provocation.
Believe me, if they did, there are plenty of examples
from our games to show the video panel. I think we’d
even up the score in no time.
Suspensions happen for 3 reasons, red cards, enough
yellows, or because of video reffing. So how bad are
we? In every season since Arsene Wenger arrived we
have had more red cards away from home than at THOF.
Our most recent double winning year was our worst
disciplinary year (12 Red cards – although 3
were away in the Champions League and we had a pair
in the Cup against Liverpool). Our best year started
badly – with 2 consecutive reds for Paddy and
a firm telling off from the FA. After that we had
only one more red (GG picked it up at Villa park –
his 4th and final red as a gunner). As for yellow
cards we are neither the best nor the worst –
consistently mid table in fact. But when it comes
to video reffing we have been tried and convicted
more times than any other club. Stands to reason of
course – the more televised matches we feature
in, the more likely it is that the cameras will highlight
something a referee didn’t see. We know it will
happen again too.
Once upon a time I used to love Arsenal so much
that, in knockout games (at a time, believe this or
don’t my little ones, when we lost a lot more
than we do now), I would refuse to believe it was
over – even after the final whistle I used to
imagine there’d been a mistake, that a man from
the FA would add another 20 minutes playing time or
award Arsenal a penalty or something. Or that later
on the other team, whoever they were, would have the
result annulled due to fielding a team without sock
suspenders against rule 13a or something. Never happened
But is there a case for saying that video refereeing
is actually achieving something similar? Campbell
faced a league ban for an offence in a friendly match
that the referee never saw. Only the help of those
nice people at Sky made sure that a massive injustice
was not done to poor Eric Djemba Djemba - when Campbell
had the nerve not to allow himself to be kicked in
the chest studs up. I’m being sarcastic - it
would have been disgraceful if Campbell had received
the purported 3 match suspension for his reaction
but if he had, the team to benefit most from the outcome
seems to be Manchester United. In the game that now
deprives us of Lauren for 4 games; it was again our
reaction to provocation that was scrutinised by the
TV people, against the same opposition, and this time
they have the penalty they want – it is going
to cost us. If we don’t prevail in the suspension
affected games and the title stays in Manchester,
we will be able to pinpoint precisely where we lost
it this time.
Watching Giggs playing for Wales last night I was
struck by the way he talked to the ref - telling him
how many time the Russians had fouled him. Giggs was
cited for using an elbow in the first leg and, if
Wales had won the second, stood to miss maybe all
of the group stage matches in Portugal. He was kicked
to bits by the Russians, but subtly and cleverly.
The niggly provocation was expertly done. As a Manchester
United player he ought to admire such professionalism
displayed by others. (But Manchester United staff
only ever give credit to plucky teams like Charlton
that they have just beaten. But it goes to show that
such a tactic does work).
Without Giggs Wales trip to Portugal would as well
be to work on their tans – they would have had
no realistic chance of getting a result in any of
the group games. There is no doubt whatsoever in my
mind that Russia targeted Giggs. Flicking over, I
had the pleasure of watching Ruud Van Nistelrooy for
Holland. There isn’t a needlier forward in the
modern game. The Scots defence were unnerved well
before he actually scored. Van Nistlerooys work off
the ball is really something to behold. You have to
stick with him – how can you let a dynamite
striker of the ball out of your sight - but actually
he enjoys it when a defender is trying to mark him.
The pushes and shoves and tugs and accidental bumpings-in
are all from the Shearer handbook with a few twists
and variations of his own. He’s a holy terror.
It is a wonder he wasn’t given a Glasgow kiss.
If he had been given one, you could definitely say
he was asking for it.
For Arsenal it is important to learn this lesson
– our players need to realise that the more
important they are to the team, the more likely it
is they will be provoked into retaliating and play
into the hands of the cheats. They want you to react.
Even if you don’t react they will have put you
off your game or injured you. Provocation is a win-win
situation. Arsenal must minimise its effects as best
they can. The FA aren’t going to rule on provocation
any time soon.
It is therefore interesting that our first set of
suspensions begins in a match against Birmingham –
Robbie Savage is the most aggravating practitioner
of the niggly art we have (Tarricco and RVN being
born outside the British isles I mean) – but
he was given a masterclass by the Russians. He will
have learnt something no doubt. Hopefully not how
to pass a ball though, eh? We don’t want him
turning into a good player, as well as a good ball
chaser (to me with his long blonde wavy hair, boundless
energy and willingness to run everywhere to get the
ball back – he is reminiscent of an insane golden
retriever). Expect him to put his darker skills into
And expect the swots at Sky to be viewing the match
tape carefully for any hint of a misdemeanour, so
they can tell “Sir”.