Van Nistelrooy repents while Wenger fumes

The news was as surprising as the sight of Ruud van Nistelrooy missing an open goal, but the Football Association was none the less gratified when the Dutchman submitted a guilty plea yesterday to the charge of serious foul play.

The news was as surprising as the sight of Ruud van Nistelrooy missing an open goal, but the Football Association was none the less gratified when the Dutchman submitted a guilty plea yesterday to the charge of serious foul play.

As the repercussions of Manchester United's controversial victory over Arsenal on Sunday, and the subsequent "Soupgate" affair, rumbled on, Arsène Wenger, the Gunners' manager, was less apologetic.

Van Nistelrooy left it late to admit his guilt, there being less than an hour before the 6pm deadline when he accepted he had deliberately raked his studs down Ashley Cole's shin.

The Manchester United striker also accepted a three-match ban. He began the first suspension of his United career by missing last night's Carling Cup tie at Crewe Alexandra. Cole, incidentally, is rated as doubtful for the Arsenal match against Southampton at Highbury on Saturday.

"There was no deliberate intent to harm Ashley Cole and I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to him," said Van Nistelrooy, who will also sit out the trip on Saturday trip to Portsmouth and the home derby against Manchester City on 6 November .

"Throughout my 10-year career I believe my disciplinary record is very good, not only for Manchester United but at all my previous clubs," he added. "I accept the charge made by the FA and I take full responsibility for this incident."

Before the statement by Van Nistelrooy, Wenger had criticised the player's behaviour as "silly".

"Van Nistelrooy is a big enough player just to come and play football," Wenger said. "I have no preconceived ideas about him but what is he doing carrying out such silly things?

"If you look at the video again it wasn't just the challenge on Ashley Cole, he also steps on Jens Lehmann in the second half and it's clearly on purpose. He does it like he is always innocent. Who is he trying to impress by doing that? Why can't he just play football and forget all the rest?"

Van Nistelrooy's swiftly concluded case is the first significant victory for the FA's new fast-track disciplinary code.

Wenger, the other protagonist of United's controversial victory interesting the FA, has a further five days to reply to the governing body's written request for an explanation of his criticism of the referee Mike Riley, but Wenger also gave a public indication of his reply yesterday.

There was an element of contrition as he insisted he had not meant to suggest that Riley was "not honest" but he remained critical of both the referee's handling of the game and United's approach. Of the claimed food fight the notoriously myopic Frenchman said he saw nothing.

It is understood Sir Alex Ferguson was splashed with soup thrown by an Arsenal player but Wenger insisted: "I don't know about that. I haven't seen it if something was thrown. I don't know what happened to Ferguson. Why don't you ask Ferguson what happened to him. He can give you an answer.

"Why should I know what happened to Alex Ferguson's shirt? Ferguson should know and he should say so."

Wenger, who is thought to have provoked the row by accosting Van Nistelrooy in the tunnel, added: "Nothing happened. There's no story. I wasn't angry after the game."

Asked to confirm he had called Van Nistelrooy a cheat he said: "I cannot deny what I did not say." On television Wenger said: "We know how Ruud van Nistelrooy behaves. He can only cheat people - we know him very well."

On Sunday Wenger noted that Riley had a habit of giving Manchester United penalties at Old Trafford. Yesterday he said: "I don't want to speak about the referee getting decisions wrong. But I think the spirit of the game was not right from the first minute and I cannot accept that when [Jose Antonio] Reyes gets kicked off the pitch the referee accepts it.

"At half-time we thought Reyes would not be able to run out any more, Ashley Cole as well. He will be out for the whole week's training.

"I don't feel [Riley] had enough authority on the game. Reyes was kicked off the park. I don't question [Riley's] honesty but he didn't protect well enough the spirit of the game. When you have a game like that shown in 75 countries ... it was a bad promotion for English football.

"I respect Manchester United but on this occasion I feel they did not play the game with the spirit we tried to play. I don't want to accuse the referee - he did the job as well as he could - but I think the game should be played in the right spirit."

For Wenger, it is the approach United had during the match which for him remains the real problem.

"I feel in England you have a habit of transforming a situation, making a small problem big so we can ignore the real problem," he said. "The real problem is what happens on the pitch.

"I'm not responsible for the way United approach the game. I am here to answer for our behaviour and our attitude.

"I cannot agree, despite the result, with the way they approached the game."

The Arsenal manager added: "I love physical commitment and people who go for the ball - but I cannot believe that Manchester United goes into the game thinking that. If they do I'm even more disappointed.

"I feel as well let's keep things where they are important - which is on the pitch. We tried to play; we didn't play well - but I didn't think there was anything in our approach which was wrong or immoral. That's what I stand for."

Wenger added: "I don't know why the game was played in such a bad spirit, because we tried to play like we always play - and coming out of that game, we are even more determined to stick to our game.

"We didn't have the best of games, but we tried to play and we tried to stick to what we always do."

The FA, said Wenger, "have to take action on what they feel is right. They have a responsibility and authority to tackle the real problems in the game".

The FA are investigating events in the tunnel but with neither Riley nor the police witnessing events, and both clubs playing down the incident, any prosecution will be difficult to secure.

Arsenal return to Manchester tonight but to a different ground, in a different competition, and with a different team. The venue is the City of Manchester Stadium, the event is the third round of the Football League Cup, and the Arsenal team which takes on Manchester City will largely be a reserve one.

"We just want to go out and play football as well as we can no matter who we play," concluded Wenger. "If coincidentally we were playing at Man United in the league cup we would go there with exactly that same spirit."

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