Ferguson left fuming over penalty decision

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson stoked controversy after the match by insisting that Manchester United were denied a penalty because of undue pressure on the referee Graham Poll.

"I don't think we were ever going to get a penalty kick here today because it's two-and-a-half years since Graham Poll has been to Arsenal," Ferguson said in reference to an incident in which Ryan Giggs appeared to be fouled by Sol Campbell.

"He's under enormous pressure," he added of the referee. "It's almost as if it was a question of 'we'll give you another chance. You didn't do us a turn the last time, you have to do us something this time.' I think that's an enormous pressure on the referee and I don't think that's fair for Graham Poll."

His comments referred to a match - Poll's last at Highbury - against Newcastle in December 2001 in which he sent off two players, and awarded Newcastle a penalty for what appeared to be a clean tackle by Sol Campbell. Thierry Henry accused Poll after the match of "trying to kill football".

Ferguson's comments are bound to be scrutinised. Giggs later insisted that he had been "clipped" and would not have gone down otherwise, although television replays showed the challenge took place marginally outside the penalty area.

Ferguson was more gracious in conceding that Arsenal "will go on to win the league now. I'm sure of that. They are playing with great determination, very strong team." However, he said he was heartened ahead of Saturday's FA Cup semi-final between the two sides. "We take a lot of credit out of the game. We played with a great tenacity and intensity," he said. "We have reminded everyone that we are not dead yet." Ferguson did not blame goalkeeper Roy Carroll for Henry's goal. "It was a great hit," he added with the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, saying: "It was a missile and an unexpected one. Unbelievable." Wenger admitted that his team was "flat" after conceding a late equalising goal.

"I felt really down today," he said. "We wanted to win the game but the overall achievement of this team is so fantastic." Arsenal have now gone 30 games without defeat in the league, a new record. "They want so much and are so hungry that I'm disappointed even after such a record," he said. "What these boys have done is remarkable."

Wenger was cautious when asked whether United's title challenge was over - although he said it was unlikely that both Arsenal and Chelsea would be caught although fatigue would play its part. "I know I was not happy at 0-0 at half-time because we had given so much and on Wednesday [in the Champions' League quarter-final against Chelsea]," he said.

Wenger intimated that some players on international duty this week, such as Freddie Ljungberg and, less probably, Thierry Henry, may be rested for the next encounter. Wenger was dismissive of Ferguson complaint over the penalty incident. "I felt the referee had a very good game."