Football: Wenger has Petit problem

Arsenal 0 Charlton Athletic 0
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The Independent Online
Arsenal 0 Charlton Athletic 0

EVERYONE KNOWS what Arsene Wenger stands for, that fusion of English toughness and European technique which brought the Double back to London N5. We are still waiting to learn what the Arsenal manager will not stand for.

Much has changed since the George Graham era. Interviews with long-serving players invariably refer to how Wenger's advice on lifestyle has prolonged their careers. The diets and the drinking may be different, yet indiscipline on the pitch continues to cast a dark shadow in the marble halls.

Emmanuel Petit's dismissal against Charlton was the club's 16th since the Premier League started in 1992. Of the 14 clubs who have been in continuous membership, only Wimbledon have a worse record. Arsenal's total is double that of Liverpool and six more than Manchester United. Petit, a personable, even sensitive individual off the park, has evidently not learned from his sending-off for manhandling a referee in October. That was one of six red cards Arsenal were shown in all competitions last season, recipients ranging from the teenaged substitute, Jason Crowe (after 33 seconds), to the seasoned international, Dennis Bergkamp.

The flashpoint this time came 12 minutes into the second half, after Charlton had survived two penalty appeals in quick succession. Petit, cautioned for disputing the second decision, then showed a lack of self- control with a late lunge on Shaun Newton. He appeared at first to refuse to go - and also to take the standing ovation he was perversely given as vindication for his action.

Wenger stopped short of the public condemnation that might send the right signals to the dressing-room, though he must realise that Arsenal's Champions' League opponents now know that Petit, for one, is easily provoked. "Manu shouldn't have done it, though he didn't mean to injure their player," he said. "When he's frustrated he over-reacts. He shouldn't do it."

Asked about the culture of dissent and indiscipline which is totally at odds with his own urbanity, Wenger replied: "I'm not happy with it. It's a big concern."

Petit, meanwhile, maintained he had merely pressed Mr Poll for a penalty, when Patrick Vieira fell under Steve Brown's challenge, and did not use abusive language. He accepted that he deserved the second caution, but his rush of blood (unjustified by television replays which showed that even if a foul should have been given, contact was outside the area) could have cost his side even more dearly if it had allowed Charlton to score.

His frustration was a tribute to Charlton. Lazily typecast as this year's Barnsley, Alan Curbishley's team are solid, where their promoted predecessors were slapdash. Exactly 900 minutes have now passed since they last conceded a League goal, reflecting much graft on the training ground. However, it should also be noted that, even before Petit's exit, they matched the champions chance for chance.

Charlton worked voraciously to deny Arsenal space in midfield, where their captain, Mark Kinsella, did not suffer by comparison with two World Cup winners. Although their next away fixtures take them to Manchester United and Liverpool, the organised manner in which they have already thwarted Newcastle with 10 men and deprived Arsenal of a 12th successive home win augurs well.

Whereas Kinsella cost Curbishley pounds 150,000 from Colchester, Wenger may have to spend 50 to 100 times as much to secure the two players he admits he is seeking. Defenders, he said, are not a priority; a striker to relieve the burden on Bergkamp surely is, though Arsenal will not pay an "unreasonable" price like the pounds 9.2m Milan asked for Patrick Kluivert.

The jaded form of their creative catalyst represents a real quandary. "Dennis isn't right yet because of the World Cup," Wenger sighed. "He went into it without proper preparation after getting injured in May and finished it exhausted. But we can't give him time to prepare properly because we have so many games."

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon (Vivas, 66), Keown, Adams, Winterburn; Parlour, Petit, Vieira (Hughes, 74), Overmars; Bergkamp, Anelka (Wreh, 70). Substitutes not used: Bould, Manninger (gk).

Charlton Athletic (4-4-2): Ilic; Mills, Brown, Youds, Powell; Newton, Kinsella, Redfearn, Robinson (Mortimer, 72); Hunt (S Jones, 64), Mendonca. Substitutes not used: Balmer, K Jones, Petterson (gk).

Referee: G Poll (Tring).

Bookings: Arsenal: Petit, Vivas. Charlton: Youds, Hunt, Brown, S Jones. Sending off: Arsenal: Petit.

Man of the match: Kinsella.

Attendance: 38,014.

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