Wenger charged after 'confronting' official

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The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger yesterday became the first target of the Football Association's new clampdown aimed at protecting referees when the Arsenal manager was charged with "alleged physical intimidation" towards the fourth official following Arsenal's game at Sunderland on Saturday. If found guilty, he could be banned from the touchline for up to 12 games and fined four weeks' wages.

Arsene Wenger yesterday became the first target of the Football Association's new clampdown aimed at protecting referees when the Arsenal manager was charged with "alleged physical intimidation" towards the fourth official following Arsenal's game at Sunderland on Saturday. If found guilty, he could be banned from the touchline for up to 12 games and fined four weeks' wages.

Wenger, angered by the late dismissal of Patrick Vieira at the Stadium of Light after he swung out an arm in retaliation at Sunderland's Darren Williams, is alleged to have confronted fourth official Paul Taylor in the tunnel after the game.

The FA said in a statement: "The charge relates to his alleged improper conduct and to bringing the game into disrepute. It refers to what is alleged to have been threatening behaviour and physical intimidation. Pending a hearing of the case and Arsÿne Wenger's response, the FA can make no further comment."

An Arsenal spokeswoman said: "The manager is surprised by the charge but he is looking forward to giving the FA a full and detailed explanation of events."

Wenger is known for fiercely defending his players and is furious at the recent treatment of Vieira, who was again sent off in the match against Liverpool on Monday. "I have been manager in teams with less potential but I never asked my players to kick anybody," Wenger said after that game, suggesting there are players sent out to intimidate his midfielder.

Arsenal could still find themselves with a further charge on their hands. The FA's new video review panel have been asked to look at replays of an incident during Monday's game. Gilles Grimandi appeared to tread on Gary McAllister's hand after the foul on Vieira that led to the Liverpool midfielder's red card.

The panel, consisting of former managers, players and referees, have also been asked by Liverpool to reconsider McAllister's dismissal, which has earned him a three-match ban.

Graham Poll, the referee at the centre of Monday night's controversy, has vehemently defence of his performance. He sent off three players in all - Vieira, McAllister and Dietmar Hamann - and was criticised by the Liverpool manager, Gérard Houllier.

The Tring-based official admits the decision to dismiss Hamman for a second offence in the second half was a mistake and has asked the Football Association to withdraw that yellow card. However, he is adamant that the expulsion of McAllister and Vieira was justified. "After reviewing the match video I have decided that the final one, that of Dietmar Hamann, was too severe and have asked the FA to rescind the second yellow card," Poll said. "Of the other two dismissals, I have studied the video footage very carefully and am completely satisfied that the action taken on the night was absolutely correct.

"Referees are too often accused of a failure to understand and recognise serious challenges. The first offence by Gary McAllister was what is commonly known as an 'over the top tackle'. Whether or not Mr McAllister intended to inflict injury upon the opponent is irrelevant - having refereed him a number of times I have to say I am sure this wasn't his intention - the fact is that he made the challenge with excessive force which endangered the safety of his opponent and was rightly sent off.

"With regard to the dismissal of Patrick Vieira; any challenge made with the feet off the ground at the speed with which his challenge was made, must be deemed as at the least reckless and therefore subject to a yellow card.

"The amount of criticism levelled at me from certain quarters has left me disappointed as we are always asked to protect players. Having done so, I expected a lot more support from those who claim to know better."

Vieira's French former midfield colleague, Emmanuel Petit, believes that racism may drive Vieira out of English football. "I can see only one solution: he must leave," Petit told France Soir newspaper. I cannot see any future for him at Arsenal. Now I'm waiting to see what sort of treatment [his fellow Frenchman Thierry] Henry will get."

Petit, who left Arsenal for Barcelona this summer, added: "As for Patrick, it is even harassment and racism. Some players do not deserve to be in football. In the face of their provocations and attacks, eventually you blow a fuse," he said.

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