James Lawton: Wenger accused by voice of the people

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The Independent Football

It is never the intent here to pander to or inflame the rabble of any sport, and least of all football, but perhaps it is right to expect extreme vigilance on the terraces of Fratton Park tomorrow.

It is never the intent here to pander to or inflame the rabble of any sport, and least of all football, but perhaps it is right to expect extreme vigilance on the terraces of Fratton Park tomorrow.

Surely the fans will scarcely need reminding that it was one of Arsène Wenger's players who last season committed arguably the most outrageous piece of cheating when he conned the referee into awarding a penalty after seeking out a collision with the Portsmouth defender Dejan Stefanovic.

In the normal course of football you wouldn't want to harp on about such an outrage; heaven knows, one piece of chicanery follows another quickly enough. But Wenger makes it hard not to dwell on that particular piece of foul play. It was he, after all, who this week was able to shrug away the FA's pathetic £15,000 fine for his assertion that "we all know Ruud van Nistelrooy, he can only cheat people". Wenger said that he would simply move on. Well, it shouldn't be quite so easy to do that.

Wenger was not required to offer an apology - no more than he was on behalf of Robert Pires when that player scandalised the best values of the game with his dive at the feet of Stefanovic - or when Arsenal's captain Patrick Vieira performed an equally egregious dive at Anfield at the end of last month.

The greatest problem of all is the unwillingness of any of the leading figures to take real responsibility for the image of the game, and if you cannot expect this from a football man of Wenger's quality and with his achievements, where do you turn? Maybe it is indeed to the often imperfect and strident but occasionally honest voice of the people.

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