After a week in which their club has been lectured about diving by Sir Alex Ferguson and others, both Arsène Wenger and Patrick Vieira accused Ruud van Nistelrooy of cheating to get the Arsenal captain dismissed.
Although neither blamed the referee, Steve Bennett, for showing Vieira a second yellow card for attempting to lash out at Van Nistelrooy, they claimed the Dutchman first stamped on Vieira and then pretended he had been struck by the end of his boot.
"I am really angry with Ruud van Nistelrooy not the referee," Vieira said after being sent off for the eighth time in his Premiership career nine minutes from the end of a bitter, fractious contest. "He made more of the challenge than he should have and he cheated. He also tried to stamp on me."
For once, Wenger was adamant he had seen the incident that provoked the 52nd sending-off during his seven years at Highbury, congratulating Old Trafford, not without irony, for siting the managers' dug-outs relatively high up in the stand. "Van Nistelrooy should have been sent off because he hit Patrick before Patrick retaliated," said Wenger, claiming the United striker ran his studs down Vieira's legs. Asked if Van Nistelrooy had cheated, Wenger was certain: "Yes it is cheating. Patrick should not have overreacted but again you are punishing the consequences more than the source of the problem."
The Arsenal manager was, however, far more reluctant to be drawn on the scenes that greeted the final whistle when Martin Keown taunted Van Nistelrooy, who had missed a third successive penalty in the 93rd minute of a contest in which all the poison between the two clubs boiled over. Van Nistelrooy was pushed in the back first by Ray Parlour and then Lauren as he walked off.
"If you want to convince me that Martin is the devil and Van Nistelrooy is an angel, then you have a problem," is all he would say. Keown, who gave away the last-minute penalty which appeared to have handed victory to United until Van Nistelrooy struck the bar, is likely to face a similar FA disciplinary charge to the one Sol Campbell will undergo after lashing out at Eric Djemba-Djemba during the Community Shield.
Ferguson was not so reticent. "I think the referee would want to look at that," said the Manchester United manager. "It was terrible behaviour. Everybody in the country will be disappointed to see that."
The relationship between Ferguson and Wenger, which has never hovered much above icy, froze deeper once the Manchester United manager had listened to his opposite number's comments. "I'm really disappointed by them because Ruud van Nistelrooy has committed a foul on Patrick Vieira and he has reacted badly. Ruud has definitely not dived, he has looked at the referee as if to say 'what kind of behaviour is this?' I will not talk about Arsenal's discipline but our own discipline was perfect."
Those who saw Gary Neville attempt to throw a punch in Parlour's direction after the final whistle or Quinton Fortune bundle over the Arsenal goalkeeper, Jens Lehmann, immediately after the penalty award, for which the South African should have been shown a second yellow card, might disagree. As Wenger commented when asked about Arsenal players' diving: "I think it is confined to 20 clubs and we should fight against it."
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