Panic and injustice leave Arsene ready to kick cat

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The Independent Football

Even growing up in the Alsatian village of Duttlenheim, Arsène Wenger had probably never kicked anything as cleanly as the water bottle by the away dug-out. With one swing of his long leg, the Arsenal manager summed up all the frustrations of this week that has all but overwhelmed his club.

Sent to the stands by Mike Dean and not knowing quite where he should go, Wenger stood with his arms outstretched a picture of bewilderment, while behind him a woman of a certain age swore loudly. Wenger's anger had many sources but what would have stung hardest and hurt longest was that Arsenal had tossed away a match they had dominated. It is four years since they last lifted a trophy, the 2005 FA Cup, after a final in which they were as comprehensively outplayed by Manchester United as United were here.

Even the great managers have to negotiate fallow years. Between 1966 and 1973 Bill Shankly delivered nothing to Liverpool, while Matt Busby's Old Trafford in the five years after the awfulness of Munich was a place full of backbiting, dissent and empty of silverware.

Both Shankly and Busby dragged their clubs back by instituting radical change, but Wenger has struck by his principles that football played by young, committed men will eventually win through. And although no result in August is decisive, victory at Old Trafford would have been a powerful statement of intent in the wake of their destruction of Everton and then Portsmouth. "We produced an exceptional performance and were punished by two goals that were beyond belief," Wenger reflected. "But I would like to leave thinking about the positives because we have a great future.

"But tonight those thoughts are difficult to swallow. We lack maturity, especially when we are not under pressure. For the penalty, Wayne Rooney was in no danger of scoring. There was no need to panic and for the own goal there was not one United player near Diaby. We could not kill off the game and when you do that you are in danger of being brought down."

The penalty changed the course of a game that was running in Arsenal's favour with the strength of a mountain stream. It was similar to the clash between Eduardo da Silva and Artur Boruc at the Emirates on Wednesday night that has led to a Uefa investigation and a possible two-match ban for the striker for diving. It is not in Rooney's character to throw himself over a goalkeeper, but Wenger, called Dean's award "Old Trafford-ish".

Meanwhile, as Cristiano Ronaldo was making his debut in a 3-2 win for Real Madrid, Raul was winning a penalty that was "Bernabeu-ish", with a dive far more blatant that anything Eduardo attempted. It made Wenger's argument that his striker was being singled out all the more powerful.

"If they cite Eduardo, they will have to cite Lionel Messi for headbutting (in the Super Cup) or they will lose all credibility," he said. "I can name you 40 situations recently in which they could intervene. There is no logic to this situation."

The logic running through United's early games is that they miss the stardust scattered by the man who last night fulfilled his boyhood dream of playing in all-white beneath the giddying stands of the Bernabeu and scored the penalty created by Raul's theatrics.

When in May these teams had met in the European Cup semi-final in north London, Ronaldo delivered his last great performance for United, fashioning a victory that his team-mate, Patrice Evra, described as "11 men against 11 children". Despite yesterday's result, there has been plenty of growing up at the Emirates during the summer and those who streamed away from Old Trafford with a nervous victory in their pocket may have wondered if the long term will still be theirs.

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