Wenger hits back at Ferguson gibe as Arsenal fall 10 points behind Chelsea

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The bitter feuding between Arsène Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson took an explosive new turn last night as the Arsenal manager responded furiously to being branded "a disgrace" by his Manchester United counterpart, insisting he would never again "answer to any provocation from him".

As if Arsenal's 1-0 defeat at Bolton, which left them 10 points behind the leaders Chelsea, was not enough to ruin his day, Wenger had awoken to a scathing attack that Ferguson launched on him in yesterday's Independent. Breaking his silence on last October's Old Trafford "food fight", the United manager insisted the Frenchman owed him an apology and described his conduct in the players' tunnel following United's victory as "a disgrace".

The United manager, intervening in a row between the Arsenal chief and a number of United players, claimed Wenger "had come sprinting towards me with his hands raised, saying 'What do you want to do about it?'." Ferguson by then had stains on his shirt from pizza and soup apparently thrown by Arsenal players.

"To not apologise for the behaviour of the players to another manager is unthinkable," Ferguson said. "It is a disgrace. But I don't expect Wenger ever to apologise - he's that type of person."

Asked last night to respond to the accusation that his hands were raised, the normally restrained Wenger was almost apoplectic with anger. "I've always been consistent with that story and said that nothing happened in the corridor at Old Trafford and with Ferguson it is very simple," Wenger said. "I will never answer any questions any more about this man. If he wants to talk, he talks. If he wants to make newspaper articles, he will make newspaper articles. It does not interest me and it does not matter to me at all. I will not answer to any provocations from him any more."

Wenger's mood was not improved by having virtually to concede defeat in the title race. "It is too early to say what will happen but at the moment Chelsea do not look like slipping up," he said.

They might have faltered at in-form Tottenham, but two goals from Frank Lampard - the first a debatable penalty - kept Chelsea rolling along 10 points clear with a 2-0 victory at White Hart Lane.

To irritate Wenger all the more, Ferguson, who had been accused by Chelsea's Jose Mourinho of sweet-talking the referee of their League Cup semi-final first leg last week, finished the day with a big smile after Wayne Rooney scored the only goal of United's match against Liverpool at Anfield. No debate about the goal, or Wes Brown's dismissal, but Rooney's brazen goal celebration in front of the Kop angered the home fans and may attract the attention of the Football Association. Ferguson thought there was nothing wrong with it, but who listens to what he says?