Infighting sees Arsenal bloodied and bowed
Wednesday 23 January 2008
Arsenal's first defeat to Spurs in over eight years ended in bloody acrimony last night – even if their manager, Arsène Wenger, professed not to have seen any of the ructions.
With the score at 4-1 to Spurs seven minutes from time, the visitors' frustrations came to a head with a confrontation between their 20-year-old Danish forward Nicklas Bendtner and the man who scored their only goal after coming on as a 64th-minute substitute, Emmanuel Adebayor. The latter appeared to strike out at his colleague as Arsenal massed in the Spurs box awaiting a free-kick, and the referee, Howard Webb, intervened, as did the Arsenal captain, William Gallas, with whom Bendtner became involved in a nose-to-nose confrontation as the youngster appeared to complain about his treatment.
Gallas admitted that Adebayor and Bendtner would have to apologise to Wenger. "I don't know exactly what happened. Everyone was disappointed about the score but we lost our calm. They know they made a mistake and maybe now they will have to speak to the boss and explain what they have done. They are only young but they have to understand."
There were reports afterwards that Adebayor, one of two Arsenal players booked, was restrained after the final whistle in the players' tunnel by a member of the visiting club's staff.
It came as no great surprise, however, that Wenger professed to have no knowledge of any disagreements. "I haven't seen it. I don't know anything about it," he said.
Wenger was his urbane self in his post-match press conference, although his distress at the night's events was evident as early as the second minute when Jermaine Jenas was allowed to shoot home among a group of red-and-white clad spectators. There followed a thunderous-browed, arms-folded strop which ended with him gesticulating alongside his fellow sufferer, Pat Rice.
If those emotions were bubbling beneath the surface within Wenger as the Spurs fans floated home in celebration of VNL Day – that is, Victory in North London Day – amid devout renditions of "Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be, we're going to Wembley, que sera, sera", Arsenal's manager produced an intriguing gloss on what will go down in Tottenham's history as a famous victory over their rivals.
"It's a disappointment because we lost, but I feel that everything was against us tonight," Wenger said. "We were not mature enough to control the game and stop their counter-attacking after we went behind. The score was very high and very brutal, but it doesn't reflect what I have seen. Because the first shot was a goal, the second goal was an own goal, the third goal was straight after half-time and the rest of the game had no real meaning. They were catching us on the break."
So, those five fortunate goals apart, Arsenal would have been worthy winners...
Wenger insisted the evening had been profitable despite the score. "It's good to see that some players are not ready for that level but they have potential," he said. That assessment will ring coldly with 18-year-old Theo Walcott, who Wenger admitted last week had not progressed ideally in the last couple of years. Offered the rarity of a start in his favourite position, up front, Walcott was a disconsolate figure who was able to contribute nothing except willing running until he was replaced.
The Spurs manager, Juande Ramos, was delighted at having guided his team to Wembley within three months of taking over from Martin Jol. "To get to a final so soon is a fantastic achievement for the players, and even more so for the fans, because it is such a long time since Tottenham beat Arsenal," he said.
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