Hands up 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 of course.

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 practice tomorrow.

And expect the swots at Sky to be viewing the match tape carefully for any hint of a misdemeanour, so they can tell “Sir”.


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