Ferguson labels Arsenal graceless in defeat

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The Independent Football

Hopes of an end to hostilities between Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger appear misplaced. Instead of looking for much needed closure on their growing rift, the Manchester United manager yesterday aimed another swipe at his Highbury counterpart, responding forcefully to Wenger's criticism of his side's tactics.

For the second time this season, Wenger offered an uncharitable reaction to defeat at Old Trafford, suggesting United ruined Wednesday's League Cup quarter-final tie as a spectacle by adopting a negative, safety-first approach.

Unlike the previous occasion, when Arsenal's 49-game unbeaten league run came to an abrupt, controversial end, the fractious relations between the two teams did not spill over into a confrontation - the now infamous "battle of the buffet" - outside the dressing-rooms. For Ferguson, though, Wenger's comments provided another opportunity to have a dig at his fiercest rival.

"We know how to lose," said Ferguson. "We have accepted it as part of life and we have always accepted it as part of the game. When Arsenal won the league at Old Trafford, our directors put champagne on for them, we sent champagne into the dressing-room, and our supporters applauded them off. That was the reaction of a club that knows how to lose."

While refusing to comment on whether he thought similar courtesies would be shown if the roles were reversed, Ferguson clearly believes Wenger and his side have a problem in accepting defeat, a view apparently supported by their alarming slide following the loss of their recent invincibility.

Ferguson can be forgiven his upbeat mood following a run of six successive victories that has brought renewed optimism to a season that, until recently, appeared in terminal decline. That turnaround only adds to his view that Wenger's criticism of his decision to employ a five-man midfield is misplaced.

"How do Arsenal play?" said an exasperated Ferguson. "I pick my team because of the players I had to play. And that is the difference. If I had wanted to play differently [on Wednesday] I would have put Smith or Van Nistelrooy or Giggs or Rooney in."

The Scot also served up harsh criticism for his other favourite target, the Football Association, when he condemned the revised disciplinary procedures after Arsenal's Robin van Persie escaped further punishment after appearing to elbow Kieran Richardson on Wednesday.