Arsenal's championship campaign is likely to be undermined by the Football Association charging five of their players with bringing the game into disrepute following the unsavoury conclusion to Sunday's tempestuous match at Old Trafford.
Arsenal could also be charged and fined for "failing to control their players" but the prospect of the Premiership leaders being docked points is receding. Though it would send out a message - and they were punished like that in 1990 - points have not been deducted from other clubs after more recent, less high-profile cases.
Manchester United are likely to escape sanction as a club but individual players could be charged, notably Gary Neville, who appeared to throw a punch. With Ashley Cole expected to face charges for jostling Ruud van Nistelrooy after Sunday's game, and Sol Campbell awaiting a hearing on a previous charge, that would leave three of England's back-four facing disciplinary action ahead of next month's European Championship qualifier with Turkey.
Arsenal could have their entire defence suspended at once. Besides Campbell and Cole, charges are also likely to be brought against Martin Keown, Kolo Touré, Lauren and Ray Parlour, all of whom also jostled Van Nistelrooy.
With the FA asking Sky TV for tapes from other camera angles, more players could be implicated, especially as reports surfaced yesterday suggesting the dispute between Patrick Vieira and Van Nistelrooy had continued in the tunnel.
Steve Barrow, the head of the FA's compliance unit, spent yesterday studying the broadcast video and match reports of the referee, Steve Bennett, and the match observer. When he has reviewed all the evidence he will recommend charges to Mark Palios, the FA's new chief executive. With Palios having pledged to speed up the disciplinary process, these are expected to be laid by tomorrow.
Those charged will have 14 days to appeal, and all are expected to request a personal hearing. Despite the difficulties inherent in a crowded fixture list, the FA are determined that these will be held promptly. However, they are unlikely to be conducted before England visit Istanbul on 11 October.
The following week Arsenal will feel the first effects of Sunday's indiscipline with Vieira suspended for the home match against Chelsea. Yesterday he appealed to referee Bennett to rescind the one-match ban levied for being sent-off.
The Arsenal captain said: "I felt hard done by with the red card because I do not feel I deserve to be sent off. I feel the referee got it wrong because of the reaction of Van Nistelrooy. Maybe the referee did not see that I did not touch him, or something like that. Van Nistelrooy gave the impression that I touched him so that is why he gave me the second yellow card.
"I went to take the ball on my chest," Vieira added. "You can see that he went to jump in on me and he tried to stamp on me. You can see it on the television properly. That was why I reacted, but I stopped my leg and I did not touch him at all. There was loads of space between me and his body. Now I am crossing my fingers that I will get let off. It was a second yellow card and I cannot make an official appeal. But the referee can change his mind about the second yellow."
Bennett, though, is unlikely to acquiesce. As far as the laws are concerned Vieira's failure to make contact is irrelevant, he attempted to do so and a yellow card was the correct sanction. As Vieira had previously been booked he had to be dismissed.
Van Nistelrooy was defended by his Manchester United team-mate Phil Neville. "There are some people in the game who do try and provoke others but Ruud is not one of them and every player at every other club knows it," Neville said. "Obviously Arsenal were aggrieved with the referee's decisions but you have to abide by them. We will let them talk, we will just get on with our football."Reuse content