Arsenal midfielder gets six-game ban

Gunners' boss speaks out against record £45,000 fine
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The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger has backed trouble-prone Arsenal midfield star Patrick Vieira, given a six-match ban and record £45,000 fine, to resurrect his career from the shame of his spitting image.

Arsene Wenger has backed trouble-prone Arsenal midfield star Patrick Vieira, given a six-match ban and record £45,000 fine, to resurrect his career from the shame of his spitting image.

The Football Association have come down hard on the 23-year-old French international following the outrageous events of Arsenal's game against West Ham earlier this month.

Vieira, having been sent off for two yellow-card tackles, spat at Hammers defender Neil Ruddock and then swore at a police officer who approached him in the players' tunnel.

But Gunners boss Wenger, who is convinced that his player was provoked throughout the game and still wants Ruddock to be hauled before the FA as well, struggled to contain his fury over the severity of punishment dished out to Vieira.

It is composed of a four-match ban and £30,000 fine for the spitting incident plus two games and £15,000 for the confrontation with the policeman.

Altogether it is the biggest financial penalty ever imposed by the FA, and Wenger said: "It is very severe, very hard - especially for what is said to have happened in the tunnel. My inclination is to appeal against that.

"I don't know if the FA could have been put under pressure to do him by all the media focus on the incident - I hope not.

"I don't say he's been made a scapegoat but I hope the same sort of spirit will be applied to every player in the League who does something similar.

"Spitting, I am told, is an offence of violent conduct, a mental one not a physical one and you can expect punishment for that.

"But while I don't say that nothing at all happened in the tunnel I believe two matches suspended and a huge fine for that is very harsh. Patrick just reacted to a policeman touching him on the back just after he had taken a lot of abuse from West Ham fans."

A year ago, Vieira escaped punishment after police on duty at Sheffield Wednesday's ground filed a report to the FA about a similar tunnel incident at the end of the infamous match in which Paolo di Canio, then with the Yorkshire side, was sent off and pushed over referee Paul Alcock.

At the final whistle, Vieira walked off the field waving V-signs to Wednesday fans who verbally abused him and was later fined £20,000 by the FA.

Wenger's eloquent words persuaded a disciplinary tribunal to give Vieira the benefit of the doubt over the police report on that occasion but the Arsenal boss could not save his fellow-countryman today.

"But I don't think this punishment will affect Patrick's football," said Wenger. He is very down now and his morale was low enough in any case after our Champions League defeat last night.

"He has said he is sorry for what he did. He kept saying that. But after three years working with him I know him well and I know the other Arsenal players will fight for him and help him to get his career back.

"He is not a bad boy. He may not always be the master of his reactions and he over-reacts sometimes but he is a genuine type who only thinks about playing football and never tries to do anybody.

"There are some others who are not like that but I have said all I want to say about Ruddock already and I'm not here to make a new statement on that."

It is believed, however, that the door may not yet be closed on the possibility of Ruddock, who ran 40 yards to confront Vieira when the red card was shown, also facing FA action.

Arsenal vice-chairman and FA councillor David Dein appeared with Vieira and Wenger before a three-man commission in a Hertfordshire hotel suite to plead their man's case and put forward mitigating circumstances of "extreme provocation"

Dein and Vieira left the 160-minute hearing without comment but FA spokesman Steve Double said: "On the first charge relating to the spitting incident the player admitted his guilt and apologised profusely. David Dein said he felt Vieira was wound up in the extreme and felt victimised."

Double added: "Eye witnesses said Vieira swore at a police officer who approached him and then kicked out at equipment in the tunnel."

But Dein's plea did not prevent the FA from handing Vieira a massive fine which supercedes the combined £32,000 imposed last season on Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler for taunting Chelsea's Graeme Le Saux and celebrating a goal against Everton by mimicking sniffing cocaine.

The only consolation for Arsenal was that Vieira's ban does not start until two weeks time and he is free to play against Newcastle on Saturday and Tottenham eight days later.

That is at least some relief for Wenger who confirmed that Vieira's fellow midfielder Emmanuel Petit is now certain to miss at least the next two games after last night's Champions League defeat by Fiorentina when he did more damage to the knee injury which had kept him out for nine weeks/

Vieira's suspension is for domestic matches only and means he will miss Premiership games against Middlesbrough, Derby and Leicester plus the third round of the FA Cup and the fourth and fifth rounds of the Worthington Cup.

Should Arsenal be beaten at Middlesbrough in the fourth round of the Worthington competition, Vieira would, instead, miss another league match - at home to Wimbledon on December 18.