Arsène Wenger last night launched a scathing attack on the referee Lee Probert after Arsenal lost 2-1 to Fulham at Craven Cottage to drop to fifth in the Premier League.
Wenger believed that the dismissal of his defender Johan Djourou, with 12 minutes left and Arsenal leading, had cost his side the game. "The referee influenced the game in completely the wrong way in my opinion, and we cannot influence that," he said. "In the last 10 minutes we lost the game because we were down to 10 men."
Djourou was booked twice in the second half, for fouling Moussa Dembélé and then Bobby Zamora. Wenger disagreed with both decisions. "The first yellow card was not a yellow card, the second yellow card was a foul for us."
Wenger's frustrations were compounded as Chelsea had earlier beaten Wolverhampton, with Frank Lampard grabbing the late winner to lift his side to fourth ahead of Arsenal.
Probert's non-award of a penalty also angered Wenger. "It was 100 per cent a penalty for the foul on Gervinho from [Phillipe] Senderos in the first half. The referee had a massive influence on the game like that," he said.
Wenger suggested that Probert, whom he said "got it all wrong and all on the same side", fell for Fulham's attempts to have Djourou sent off. "At the moment you get the first yellow card they tried every time to get him the second yellow and the referee was naïve enough to give it," he said.
The Arsenal manager claimed the second-half introduction of Kerim Frei was central to Fulham's plans. "When Djourou got the first, every time he intervened they went down to get him a second yellow, and Djourou did nothing at all," he said. "I saw it coming, because the game when Frei came on was all that: look for the second yellow card for Djourou, and in the end he got it."
Unsurprisingly, Wenger was frustrated at the three points lost. "It was a massive missed opportunity," he said. "We have consistent problems to face and we do it with heart and it's very difficult defeat to swallow the defeat as I feel it wasn't deserved."
At Molineux it had been Ramires's goal which prompted a mass of players including David Luiz, Ramires, Raul Meireles, Jose Bosingwa, Oriol Romeu and Ashley Cole to run over to the touchline to celebrate with their manager. Last month, Andre Villas-Boas denied a story that he had told his players to include their manager and the coaching staff in their goal celebrations.
Yesterday the Chelsea manager was also moved to deny a story that certain players had a arranged a farewell dinner for departing striker Nicolas Anelka after he was not invited to the club's training ground Christmas party. Villas-Boas said that the players' reaction was "part of their showing of the unity of the team and what the team have been doing."
He said: "After recent events, from fixtures where we lost points, it's normal for stories to come out about untrue things going on. It's not good to see, the consistency in the criticism, in the invention of the negative critics, but what we want to avoid is going back to those negative periods by getting points and avoiding incompetence."
Villas-Boas denied he was aware that the players were planning to celebrate a goal with him. "If you want to be speculative, that's your choice," he said. "But if you take that route, you're not being correct. What has been written is false."
Lampard admitted he was fortunate not to be dismissed yesterday. The Chelsea midfielder slid into Adam Hammill in the 18th minute, catching the Wolves man with his studs. Lampard said: "My heart was in my mouth over that challenge. I have to admit that. There was no malice but I was late and I might have been a bit lucky to stay on the pitch.
"I said straight away to Hammill I was very sorry. I was trying to get my foot in but it wasn't any conspiracy between the ref and us. There were a few things that could have gone either way. It was a full-blooded game and I just apologised to the player."