Record fine, mass suspensions - are Arsenal downhearted? No. Sometimes the Highbury club's siege mentality and the players' tetchiness can make it appear that they are permanently on a war footing. Yesterday, after being wounded by the Football Association imposing a £175,000 fine and banning four players, they came out all guns blazing and thrashed struggling Leeds United 4-1 at Elland Road.
Arguments have raged since the FA's disciplinary decision on Thursday over whether or not Arsenal got off lightly for their misdemeanours against Manchester United, whose manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, suspected that they had. His opposite number, Arsène Wenger, thought they had not, of course. There could have been little argument yesterday with Wenger's suggestion that Leeds had got off lightly and that Arsenal's man of the match, Thierry Henry, who scored twice as Arsenal opened a 3-0 lead by half-time, had been merely coasting. "I think he played at a pace where he didn't have to dig deep physically," Wenger said. "He was not under pressure to defend much and he waited for the good opportunities to go forward."
For Leeds' manager, Peter Reid, most of the problems are all too clear. The club have just anounced a record £49.5m loss for the year, taking overall debts to £78m, and the team, propped up by on-loan players, have lost six of their last seven Premiership matches. Victory for Leicester City today at home to Blackburn Rovers, Leeds' only victims in their poor run, would send Reid's men to the bottom.
Not so clear was why Mark Viduka was not playing. The striker has back trouble, but Reid seemed to think the problem lay a little lower down and left out the Australian for "disciplinary reasons", apparently being late for training and yesterday's game. He agreed that his side were outclassed and picked out Henry as the main reason. He said: "Once he is into his stride and running at you it is 'good night, God bless'." Not perhaps the best choice of phrase. It could soon be applied to him as manager or even to Leeds United (relegated, closed down or both).
Arsenal stay a point clear at the top after second-placed Chelsea also won, at Everton, where the cruel aspect of the game was exposed. Tomasz Radzinski, Wayne Rooney, Alex Nyarko and Francis Jeffers wasted chances to put Everton ahead before Adrian Mutu gave Chelsea the points with the only goal. Roy Keane and Cristiano Ronaldo came off the substitutes' bench to secure Manchester United's 3-0 home win over Portsmouth.
At the bottom, Bolton moved up by bringing an end to Tottenham's unbeaten run under David Pleat, and Middlesbrough defeated Wolves, thanks to a piledriver from Gaizka Mendieta and a goal by Juninho. But that match was marred by a red card for Alex Rae for two fouls on Danny Mills and a clash between players in the tunnel after the game. Shades of Turkey and another chance for the FA's disciplinary panel to show their teeth, no doubt.Reuse content