Arsenal's title charge was disrupted last night as their France striker Thierry Henry was banned for three vital matches after being found guilty of improper conduct.
The 28-goal forward went before the Football Association's three-man disciplinary commission for his outburst at the referee Graham Poll after the final whistle of the Gunners' 3-1 defeat to Newcastle United on 18 December.
Henry had to be restrained by team-mates and police officers – and was made to pay today as he was banned for three domestic fixtures, starting on 21 March, and also ordered to personally pay the costs of yesterday's hearing.
The Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, who hinted in the run-up to the hearing that his club would accept the FA verdict rather than appeal, was with Henry at the disciplinary commission's meeting at the Meridian Excelsior Hotel at Heathrow, west London.
The north London club are mulling over their right of appeal – unless they do protest, Henry will miss the Highbury league dates with West Ham on 23 March and Sunderland on 30 March, as well as the match at Charlton two days later. He will not miss Saturday's FA Cup quarter-final at Newcastle and the Premiership game at Aston Villa on 17 March.
The FA issued a statement after the two-hour hearing: "Thierry Henry has been found guilty of improper conduct and will be suspended for three matches from 21 March. He will also be responsible for the costs of the hearing."
Henry sparked the investigation when he launched into a confrontation with Poll after the referee sent off Ray Parlour and awarded Newcastle a controversial late penalty in the Gunners' Highbury defeat.
The French forward played in Arsenal's 1-0 league victory against Derby County on Tuesday night, after recovering from the groin injury that forced him to miss Saturday's 2-0 Premiership success at Newcastle – but Wenger must now make contingency plans to counter for the 24-year-old's extended absence.
Wenger emerged from the hearing to criticise the verdict and maintain that the three-match ban will spur his team on to the Premiership title.
"The suspension is very harsh and I'm very disappointed," he said. "Now we'll give ourselves a bit of time and think about an appeal. No definite decision is clear in my mind – but I would rather say yes than no.
"We're used to bad times – and this will not stop us. This decision reinforces our desire to win the championship, although of course, I would rather we did it with Henry."
The manager also claimed that Henry was punished for his tantrum despite other players getting away with worse offences, adding: "Henry has a very good disciplinary record and we hoped for a suspended ban because he didn't touch the referee – and if you look at the tape, you can see he didn't insult the referee at all.
"I have seen incidents on the field when players have got off with much worse – and that's why it's quite difficult to accept."
Wenger added: "I think the FA's intention to clean up the game is very good," he said. "You would expect them to treat everybody fairly, and we defended our case in a fair way. But you must accept our frustration with that game. We paid the price twice as we should not have lost the game, and now we will miss Henry."
The Highbury manager also criticised the media, claiming the hype over Henry's rant led to him being charged. "When you are at a big club in a big city, you are sometimes singled out because of the media," he added. "That is a price we have to pay and we accept that. However, this case was judged out of context."Reuse content