Sir Alex Ferguson's conviction that there is a "special relationship" between Arsenal and the Football Association would have intensified yesterday with the news that there will be no charges brought against Robin van Persie for his challenge on Kieran Richardson in Wednesday night's League Cup quarter-final.
Arsenal's 21-year-old Dutch forward appeared to attempt to strike Richardson with his elbow before launching into a wild tackle. Richardson retaliated, although both men were shown yellow rather than red cards. Afterwards, the Manchester United manager had demanded an FA inquiry, but yesterday a spokesman said no further action would be taken.
A statement said: "The FA has reviewed the actions of all the players involved in the incident and is satisfied that no further disciplinary action is required." Later in the tie, which Arsenal lost 1-0, Van Persie was fortunate to escape a second yellow card when appearing to dive.
His manager, Arsène Wenger, said Mark Halsey's decision to book both players, for what Ferguson said was "aggressive behaviour" was a sensible decision, although he had considered taking off the striker, who came to Highbury from Feyenoord with an unpredictable reputation.
"I feared it was going to be worse than a yellow card and it could have been," said Wenger, who had seen two of his senior players dismissed in Eindhoven the previous week. "Robin shows great potential but he must learn to keep his nerves under control and not get over-excited. I considered bringing him off because he was involved in some heated moments."
For Ferguson it must appear that Arsenal lead a charmed life with the authorities. He was outraged by what he saw as lenient sentences - the highest was a four-match ban for Lauren - when Ruud van Nistelrooy was baited by a mob of Arsenal players after missing a penalty at Old Trafford in September 2003. He claimed then that: "Arsenal and the FA have been doing deals for years".
In October, while Van Nistelrooy was presented with a three-match ban on video evidence for an uncontrolled tackle on Ashley Cole, Manchester United's attempts to persuade the FA to examine challenges made by Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp in the same match led nowhere. The dossier sent to Soho Square by United was dismissed out of hand because it fell outside the required time limit.
Although Arsenal's third domestic defeat of the season was considerably less painful than the other two, Wenger confessed he felt anxiety as the Christmas programme approached. Like Ferguson, he saw Chelsea as a real threat.
"They have a better squad than last year but I am more concerned with my own side because we have lost in another competition. With this run of poor form, I can't say I'm happy with what's happened. But you have to say that last season when we went undefeated was exceptional; it was a one-time occurrence.
"What is happening now is disastrous compared to last season," Wenger added, "but only because what happened then was [almost] unique in the history of English football. But we want to get back to what we know we are good at."
While Wenger expressed his continued belief that Edu would sign a new contract at Highbury - his current deal expires in June - Ferguson was lifted by a statement from Phil Neville that he was not yet seeking to leave Manchester United.
Neville's situation is uncannily similar to that of Nicky Butt who, although highly valued by his manager, stated last December that he had no option but to seek a transfer because of a lack of first-team opportunities. Ferguson persuaded him not to move in the January transfer window, although Butt joined Newcastle in July.
The younger Neville has played a mere five Premiership matches this season, two as substitute, and has yet to start a single Champions' League fixture, although Ferguson has promised he will be involved in the dead, final group game against Fenerbahce on Wednesday.
"I want to play more games but the bigger challenge is to stay and fight for my place," said Neville after captaining United to victory at Old Trafford. "The easy way out is maybe to look to play my football elsewhere but the boss says he wants me to play for him and he's possibly the most important man and one I should listen to. There are some great players here and the boss has made sure I've contributed.
"I've not played the amount of games I should have," he continued, "but, as long as I feel good enough, I'll stay and fight for my place. Whatever I say, people will take the wrong way and the boss knows I'm frustrated. I do want to play more but at this club, not at any other club."
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