Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas yesterday apologised for his outburst at referee Lee Mason in the tunnel during half-time of his team's 2-1 victory over Everton, saying his comments were made in the "heat of the moment".
Fabregas was fuming with Mason over the official's controversial decision to allow Everton's opening goal from Louis Saha. The Spanish World Cup winner will escape any sanction from the Football Association as Mason decided not to mention it in his report on the match.
Everton manager David Moyes however described the comments as "disgusting" in his post-match interview, and claimed the 23-year-old should have been sent off for what he said. Last night Fabregas said: "There has been much talk about me saying things to the officials at half-time on Tuesday night. All I can say is that I have respect for all match officials. Their job is a very difficult one and their decisions are final.
"Yes, I was upset at half-time. So too were about 60,000 Arsenal supporters in the stadium. We were 1-0 down against a very good Everton side to a goal which we felt was offside. Of course I am going to be upset. Players from both sides were saying things as we came off the pitch, and this always happens in football.
"I'm passionate about this club and like all the players want to win every single match, so many things are said in the heat of the moment. Clearly the officials feel that nothing serious happened, as I understand the referee has not included anything in his match report. I just want to focus on our next match, which is another big challenge at Newcastle on Saturday."
A source in the tunnel yesterday told The Independent that as the players made their way to the dressing rooms, Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger was waiting to speak to Mason. In the chaos, David Moyes turned and reacted to something he had heard, saying, "You can't say that." Wenger then waited for Mason, and asked the Bolton official how he had allowed the Everton goal to stand.
The source said: "There were about 50 people there, and as usual there was plenty of shouting and noise. Cesc did not confront the referee or anything like that. If he said anything, it would only have been a general comment, not to the referee's face." Fabregas has been involved in several unsavoury incidents of late – his card waving antics against Huddersfield Town on Sunday, his "rugby" comments following last month's defeat at Ipswich – that suggest he is feeling the strain of leading Arsenal's bid to win their first trophy for six years.
Wigan Athletic manager Roberto Martinez also insinuated Fabregas dived to win a penalty in Arsenal's recent 3-0 victory in an incident which saw Wigan defender Gary Caldwell sent off. Martinez, a fellow Spaniard, said: "Cesc comes from a different culture. You do not cheat, if you take a decision from the referee it is because you are clever and you are getting something for your team."
Fabregas seems angry at the world at the moment, only too willing to berate officials and opponents for perceived wrongdoings. Either he is carrying Arsenal's troubles on his shoulders, or still hankering for the almost inevitable move to Barcelona that came close to happening last summer.
Fabregas is certainly more fired up than usual. He was fortunate not to be booked by Mason early in the game on Tuesday night for a nasty foul on Mikel Arteta's ankle, and that may have been behind Moyes' decision to go public with Fabregas's half-time comment.
Fabregas yesterday received support for his "passionate" leadership from team-mate Jack Wilshere. He wrote on his Twitter page: "Cesc is a great captain and helps me a lot A great role model for all young players! He is a brilliant leader and protects his team-mates always, very passionate guy."
Petty incidents of ill temper have followed Fabregas throughout his career. He was involved in "Pizzagate" in October 2004, when someone threw a slice of pizza that hit Sir Alex Ferguson after Manchester United ended Arsenal's unbeaten league run.
He has also been involved in a spat with Mark Hughes, when he was at Blackburn Rovers, and was cleared after he had been accused of spitting at Hull City assistant manager Brian Horton in March 2009.