Angry Ferguson attacks Arsenal

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The Independent Online

Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday criticised the slowness of the Football Association's disciplinary procedures as Arsenal's Thierry Henry prepared for today's hearing into his outburst at the referee Graham Poll, which could result in a three-match ban.

The Manchester United manager has effectively accused the Gunners of causing the FA to delay the hearing into Henry's 18 December rant, and Patrick Vieira's charge of violent conduct for an alleged elbowing offence on Boxing Day.

Henry's hearing is two-and-a-half months after the incident – while the verdict on Vieira's clash with Chelsea's Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink will not be delivered until the FA's three-man disciplinary commission meet next Tuesday.

Last week, the Newcastle manager, Bobby Robson, questioned the reason for the delay before Henry's hearing, and Sir Alex yesterday accused Arsenal of wanting the uproar over the Henry and Vieira incidents to die down before a hearing.

"They [Arsenal] have been very clever in delaying the hearings for Henry and Vieira," he said. "It's quite amazing they haven't been brought to book before now.

"I'm glad Bobby Robson brought it up as they have been very clever, because – at the time of the incidents – they [Henry and Vieira] might have got even more than three-match suspensions for what they did.

"If that had been a Manchester United player who did what Henry did, it would have been Sing Sing [an American prison] for our player. It's all forgotten now and, three months later, they'll say that all Henry did was argue with the referee."

Ferguson believes Arsenal's delaying tactics before Henry's hearing might not pay off and he said: "They have delayed it very cleverly – but that may come back to haunt them as, sometimes in life, you can be too clever. If we win the league, we will have done it in the right way."

Despite Ferguson and Robson's comments, the FA says it has no choice but to allow significant time between an offence and a hearing due to European Union human rights legislation. Anyone answering an FA charge has 14 days to request a personal hearing – but the governing body also faces a legally binding EU law that states the accused must be allowed sufficient time to prepare their defence, under the "principal of fair justice".

Further time elapses while officials process the request for a personal hearing and agree dates on which commission members, the club and the individual are all available. However, the game's governing body is aware of cases when clubs abuse the system and succeed in delaying hearings and is now planning to change its rules to ensure swifter verdicts.

An FA spokesman, Adrian Bevington, responded to concerns over delays by outlining the mass of disciplinary charges his organisation is ploughing through. He said yesterday: "There has been a backlog of high-profile disciplinary cases, including today's hearing of mass confrontation involving Fulham and Everton – and forthcoming hearings for Vieira, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Alan Smith and Mark Viduka. It is important we go through all the evidence to ensure we are in the right position to charge people – and that often involves consulting our video advisory panel."

The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, who is expected to attend Henry's hearing, is "optimistic" that his French striker will escape without any suspension at all. The 24-year-old launched into an angry confrontation with Poll after the Hertfordshire official had sent off Ray Parlour and awarded Newcastle a disputed late penalty in the Gunners' 3-1 Highbury defeat.

A three-match ban would rule Henry out of Saturday's FA Cup quarter-final at Newcastle and the Premiership games at Aston Villa on 17 March 17 and against West Ham at Highbury six days later.