James Lawton: Wenger's refusal to condemn mob rule exposes depth of moral evasion

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The Independent Online

Arsene Wenger still doesn't get it. He doesn't get any of it. He bombards with non sequiturs the crisis of his club that has inevitably followed the team's disgraceful behaviour at Old Trafford last Sunday. He cannot see it for what it is above all else: a direct consequence of the seven years of his own neglect of basic discipline.

Now he sounds like a man who couldn't recognise a challenge to his own integrity in football if it landed on his forehead in the form of a burning arrow.

His statement yesterday in response to the FA announcement of charges against six of his players - and the revelation that they are demanding an explanation for his post-game charge that Manchester United's Ruud van Nistelrooy had been guilty of cheating - was a shocking parody of an apology. In fact it was another sustained whine, one that made it a little easier to understand the bizarre claims of his senior defender Sol Campbell that he was a victim of an FA conspiracy.

Until now suggestions that Wenger's approach to his team's appalling disciplinary record has been utterly inadequate have carried the almost statutory qualification that the weakness is completely at odds with the rest of his inspired approach to the game.

But there comes a point when all the brilliant coaching has to be balanced against something as profound as a man's moral view of what he is about. More shocking than his evasions yesterday, was Wenger's apparent refusal to recognise the squalor of that gloating, hate-spewing gang attack on Van Nistelrooy at the end of the game.

Indeed, if suggestions by the Arsenal board that they will speak to their manager about his failure, perhaps even his unwillingness, to impose anything like proper discipline at Highbury, are to carry any credibility at all his statement yesterday must be studied - and acted upon. If this doesn't happen, the FA are surely bound to see that Arsenal's overall position is nothing so much as the deep state of denial exhibited by Wenger yesterday.

Most outrageous of all is Wenger's claim that if the Sky television cameras hadn't been present the whole matter would have passed without action by the FA. He added that he has seen go unpunished incidents "10 times worse" than that perpetrated by the screaming, hassling mob led by Martin Keown against Van Nistelrooy. He said that the media has whipped the FA into life, which is a statement that also needs a little re-examination if the ruling body in English football is really intent on making good their new chief executive Mark Palios's claim of new standards of discipline in the game.

So far the FA's prompt action generally has to be a matter of encouragement, though you don't have to infected by even a touch of partisanship to suspect at the very least a hint of football political correctness in the decision to also charge United's Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs. A careful study of the film surely shows that Ronaldo and Giggs both found themselves caught in a tide of sickeningly brutish aggression, in Giggs' case when Patrick Vieira reacted so wildly to his red card and Ashley Cole joined in the charge of Arsenal players at the final whistle. This, though, is a matter of detail that should be approached with the ambition of natural justice rather than some show of ersatz even-handedness.

Arsenal and Wenger can rage for as long as they like, but they cannot expunge the disgusting images they created at Old Trafford. Wenger can throw as much mud as he likes at Van Nistelrooy, who emerged unscathed from the examination of all relevant video; he can sail over the blatant cheating of his own Robert Pires, and he can accuse the media, including the former Arsenal striker Alan Smith, who is already feeling the backlash of his conspicuous honesty as a football commentator, but he cannot any longer interfere with a truth that was always going to dawn.

It is that so many chickens have come home to roost at Highbury we could be looking at a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's horror classic The Birds. The sky is simply filled with evidence that a team finally lost its head. The other worry now, inspired by the latest words of its manager, must be about the decency of its heart.

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