Manchester United expect the FA to take a harsh line with Arsenal when they hand over a dossier detailing the alleged incidents that scarred the aftermath of last Sunday's victory at Old Trafford.
While the United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, accused his Arsenal counterpart, Arsène Wenger, of having "a mental problem" with Ruud van Nistelrooy, the club has video footage and statements from independent witnesses who saw the fracas. The throwing of soup and pizza at Ferguson is just one of the incidents that have angered United. The club was unimpressed by Wenger's furious reaction in the tunnel and by his subsequent denial that any incident took place. This denial has been rather undermined by the admission from the Arsenal midfielder, Edu, that there was trouble in the dressing-room area, with the caveat that he had seen far worse in Rio de Janeiro.
"We are collating a lot of information about Arsenal Football Club which we are going to present to the FA about what happened last week and we expect the FA to act on that," Ferguson said.
"There was supposed to be an agreement between the two clubs at the time not to comment about it but that has been washed aside by Arsenal's actions during the week. It is so clear-cut that the FA would need to do something. Arsenal have a past record and sometimes you run out of excuses."
Ferguson was bitterly disappointed by the FA's treatment of Arsenal's players following the pushing, jeering and jostling of Van Nistelrooy when he missed a last-minute penalty at Old Trafford in September 2003. The stiffest punishment was Lauren's four-match ban while the fine of £175,000 would not have stung the accounts department at Highbury too deeply.
Not for the first time at Old Trafford, the Arsenal manager implied that Van Nistelrooy is a cheat and the Dutchman may yet take legal action against him. "He is always looking to provoke or dive," Wenger said of Van Nistelrooy 13 months ago. Last Sunday his challenge on Ashley Cole that sparked an FA charge and a three-match ban, only fuelled his anger. "We know how he behaves. He can only cheat people," Wenger said of the Dutchman's conduct on Sunday. If Van Nistelrooy expects an apology, he may have a long wait.
Nevertheless, Arsenal have played entirely into Manchester United's hands by their conduct in defeat and both the club and the manager intend to exploit their advantage to the full.
"The guy has a mental problem with Ruud van Nistelrooy," said Ferguson. "He's always on about Van Nistelrooy. Ruud accepts his responsibilities; he held his hand up. The incident, from the moment he controlled the ball to the clash with Cole, was 1.7 seconds. He could not believe, when he saw the video, how high the challenge was."
Ferguson said he was not surprised that the gentlemen's agreement between the two clubs not to discuss the incident had failed. He had told United's chief executive, David Gill, that a truce would not hold and considered that the midweek summit meeting between Gill and Arsenal's vice-chairman, David Dein, was convened far too late. By then Wenger had already given two press conferences, neither of which saw any expression of regret.
Wenger's attitude is that the English media make far too much of incidents such as the jostling of Van Nistelrooy, the throwing of pizza or even Patrick Vieira's spitting at Neil Ruddock that earned the Arsenal captain a ban five years ago. They are regrettable but not as worthy of censure as tackles that could finish a player's career.
Yesterday, he attempted to move the debate on. "What United should do is send in their report to the FA. I am happy with that because nothing happened. I always say that what is important is what happens on the pitch and how you behave on it. When one per cent becomes more important than 99 per cent, I feel football is in trouble."
Perhaps understandably, Wenger asked that Arsenal should look forward rather than back to the events of Sunday afternoon. For Ferguson, forward means chipping away at an eight-point lead that is more manageable than it would have been had Arsenal come away from Old Trafford with a victory.
Some thought the survival of his whole regime might have rested on beating Arsenal, although the United manager was not so sure. "Not really. The press were making more of it than I was, although overcoming a 14-point lead would have been a mammoth task for us.
"But I never thought we were going to lose, not during the week leading up to the match, knowing how well we had prepared, or during the match. I was confident when I went out of that tunnel."
Ferguson has grounds for confidence now his defence has found it rhythm. The Arsenal game was their third without conceding and Ferguson said that with the possible exception of Wes Brown coming in, he could not see the back four of Gary Neville, Mikaël Silvestre, Rio Ferdinand and Gabriel Heinze changing. "For the first half on Sunday, Arsenal looked like a team that had gone 49 matches unbeaten. They seemed confident and assured but they did not create a single chance."Reuse content