The twisted hatred provoked by one of football's most bitter rivalries was shown in its full unexpurgated ugliness as Tottenham fans, teased by Theo Walcott, reacted with naked fury at the Emirates.
Walcott suffered a knee injury late in Arsenal's 2-0 FA Cup third round win and was treated on the field, then carried from it by a stretcher. The route to the tunnel took him past those fans who had made the short trip across north London and they bombarded both Walcott and the stretcher bearers with coins and plastic bottles after the England international gestured to them with his hands indicating the 2-0 scoreline.
The Football Association, which takes a dim view of players inciting violence, are expected to look into the incident but it is understood Walcott is unlikely to be charged. Unlike Jack Wilshere's 'giving the finger' to Manchester City fans last month - for which he received a one-match ban - Walcott's gesture was not in itself offensive. While it undoubtedly offended Tottenham fans Arsenal will point out to the FA that Walcott was subjected to a hail of coins before his gesture.
“The doctor said coins were raining over his head while he was treating Theo [on the pitch] and he had to protect him,” said Arsene Wenger, “maybe that is why he did that.” The Arsenal manager added: “If the FA judge is it offensive what can I do but I don't think he will be in trouble. What he did was not offensive. He does not look aggressive, he is smiling.”
Tottenham's head coach Tim Sherwood said he had not seen the incident but he condemned any Tottenham fans who threw coins. “If they did that it is a problem.” As for Walcott's gesture Sherwood said it was “maybe it was a bit of banter.”
One player who could be charged by the FA - and banned for three matches, is Tottenham's young Frenchman Nabil Bentaleb who marred his full debut by stamping on Nacho Monreal's arm. “The referee missed it,” said Wenger.
Wenger was unsure of the exact nature of Walcott's injury - “it is either stretched ligaments or a kick”. Thomas Vermaelen was also withdrawn after being kicked. Wenger also confirmed that Nicklas Bentner will be out for a month with the ankle injury sufered scoring against Cardiff on New Year's Day.
Arsenal's goals came from Santi Cazorla, after 32 minutes, and Tomas Rosicky half-an-hour later.