Arsenal were left with just two senior defenders free from the imminent probability of suspension after an unprecedented six team members were charged by the Football Association yesterday.
The London club were also charged with failing to control their players in the wake of the unseemly finale to Sunday's match at Old Trafford. Manchester United escaped more lightly with two players, Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo, charged with improper conduct, and Phil Neville warned as to his future conduct.
The Arsenal board responded with a statement declaring they were "taking this matter seriously" and intended "to meet in the near future to further discuss the events of last Sunday. The club demands high standards both on and off the field and the board believes these were not met last Sunday. Arsène Wenger has already addressed the players on this issue".
Strong words, but given Wenger's impregnable position at the club he is unlikely to be worried about the board's censure. Previous criticisms have had minimal effect. During his seven-year reign Arsenal have become a byword for indiscipline with 52 dismissals and a string of other offences, including six disrepute charges last season alone.
But the impact of suspensions may encourage a change of approach. Wenger will certainly be concerned at the prospect, come late October, of having to construct a back four with just Kolo Touré and Pascal Cygan available from his senior defensive staff. Martin Keown, Lauren and Ashley Cole were among those charged by the FA yesterday, and Sol Campbell is still awaiting a personal hearing following an incident in August's Community Shield game, also against United.
The club's only other defenders are a series of rarely risked reserves such as the 23-year-old Greek Stathis Tavlaridis and John Halls, 21, plus the recently signed Swiss teenager Phillippe Senderos, who has yet to play for the club and is suffering from inflammation of the back.
The other Arsenal players charged were Patrick Vieira, whose dismissal sparked most of the conflicts at the end of Sunday's match, Ray Parlour and Jens Lehmann.
Of the sextet, Lauren looks set to receive the longest ban. He faces four charges including two of violent conduct, normally punishable with a three-match ban. With improper conduct usually punished with a one-match ban, he could face an eight-match suspension, though this is regarded as very unlikely. A five or six-match absence is anticipated.
Keown and Parlour also face charges of violent conduct, as well as a lesser charge. As both have previous form with the disciplinary department they can expect four-match bans.
Vieira will have to add to the £102,000 he has so far paid the FA in fines during his time in England and suffer a ban of up to two matches. This would be in addition to the automatic one-match ban for being dismissed. Lehmann, though he has no "previous" in England, could receive a two-match ban as he confronted the referee. Cole, though he has a past record, may escape with a one-match ban.
The United players charged are likely to receive one-match suspensions. Gary Neville was not charged after video evidence cleared him of striking Parlour. In the initial pictures it appeared he had, but further camera angles suggested Parlour was the aggressor with Neville merely defending himself. He can, though, regard himself as fortunate to escape a minor charge following a prolonged confrontation with Freddie Ljungberg, among others.
Arsenal can expect a heavy fine but are unlikely to be docked points as the FA is wary of a legal challenge. Though Arsenal and Manchester United were docked points after a brawl in 1990, more recent offences, by less high-profile clubs, have only incurred fines.
All the players charged are expected to request a personal hearing, though the FA, armed with video evidence, expects most charges to be upheld. The FA would like to hear all the cases over a three-day period as soon as possible, but Arsenal are likely to try to stagger the hearings so suspensions do not run concurrently.
The most likely date for the bulk of the hearings is the final week of next month, when there are no international or European commitments. Arsenal and United will have Carling Cup third-round ties that week, but they rarely field leading players at that stage.
Depending on whether players appeal against any suspensions, Arsenal could thus have to field a reserve defence on 8 November, when they host Tottenham. Spurs have not won at Highbury in a decade. It could their best chance of doing so in almost as long.
CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS
Record fine for a club: £1.5m for Tottenham for financial misconduct, December 1994.
Record fine for individual: £150,000, plus a five-match ban, for Manchester United's Roy Keane following comments in his autobiography, October 2002.
Record ban for an individual (post-1970): Eight months, plus a £10,000 fine, for Manchester United's Eric Cantona after he leapt into the crowd to assault a fan at a match, February 1995. (Before 1970 several players received life bans for match-fixing.)
Record fine for an Arsenal player: £45,000, plus a six-match ban, for Patrick Vieira for spitting following his dismissal at West Ham, October 1999.
Record bans for Arsenal players: Nine matches for Paul Davis for breaking the jaw of the Southampton player Glenn Cockerill off the ball, October 1988; two months for Paul Merson for admitting drug use, December 1994.
Other recent FA punishments for Arsenal: Club fined £50,000 (suspended) for nine dismissals in a season, August 2002.
THE ACCUSED: THE NINE CHARGED BY THE FA FOR OLD TRAFFORD FRACAS
ARSENAL FOOTBALL CLUB
Charged with misconduct for "failing to ensure the proper behaviour of their players".
Two counts of improper conduct for "confronting Van Nistelrooy after Vieira's sending-off, and for confronting Giggs after the final whistle". Two counts of violent behaviour for "kicking out at Fortune following the penalty award and for forcibly pushing Van Nistelrooy in the back following the final whistle".
MARTIN KEOWN (ARSENAL)
One charge of improper conduct for "confronting Van Nistelrooy following the penalty miss" and one charge of violent behaviour "for striking Van Nistelrooy on the back of the head following the final whistle".
RAY PARLOUR (ARSENAL)
One charge of improper conduct for "confronting Van Nistelrooy after the final whistle" and a further charge of violent behaviour for "grabbing at Gary Neville from behind shortly afterwards".
ASHLEY COLE (ARSENAL)
One charge of improper conduct for "his involvement in a confrontation with Ronaldo after the final whistle".
JENS LEHMANN (ARSENAL)
One charge of improper conduct for "confronting referee Steve Bennett after Vieira's second yellow card and for then persistently seeking to confront Van Nistelrooy."
PATRICK VIEIRA (ARSENAL)
One charge of improper conduct for "failing to leave the field of play following his sending-off, and for instead seeking to confront Van Nistelrooy and engaging in a verbal exchange with fourth official Neale Barry."
RYAN GIGGS (MAN UTD)
One charge of improper conduct for "his involvement in a confrontation with Lauren after the match had ended".
CRISTIANO RONALDO (MAN UTD)
One charge of improper conduct for "confronting Keown at the conclusion of the match."
WARNED: Manchester United's PHIL NEVILLE has been warned as to his future conduct after a confrontation with LaurenReuse content