Shades of Gray and the penalty that never was

Last updated : 14 February 2007 By Kevin Archer
Six Arsenal players were booked, despite the fact that only one serious challenge was made all afternoon. Three of those bookings were laughable, albeit for different reasons: Toure was carded for standing too close to a Wigan player; Rosicky saw yellow for celebrating his match-winning goal (the audacity of it); and Lehmann was punished for highlighting Kirkland's persistent time-wasting.

OK, Jens was rather too blatant in his parody of Kirkland, but Rosicky and Toure can feel very unfortunate.

Arsenal will be fined £25,000 for the total number of cautions, the implication being that this was an unacceptably aggressive performance by the men in red and white. In reality, it was simply an inept performance by the man in black.

Which brings us to the most controversial moment of all: the penalty that wasn't.

Listening to Sky's pundits (including David Platt, I'm sorry to say) is enough to make the blood boil. To a man, they described Heskey as being ‘wrestled to the ground'.

Well, look carefully at the replays and you will see that Flamini (who weighs 12 stone in the rain) gingerly places one hand on Heskey's shoulder for about a fifth of a second. There's no other contact, yet muscle-bound, bull-necked 16 stone Heskey hits the turf like a sack of spuds dropped from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

‘Why would he go to ground unless he'd been brought down?' argued Gary McAllister. I'll tell you why: because he felt there was a better chance of scoring from the penalty spot than open play. And given that we are talking about a forward who is yet to reach 100 Premiership goals despite 3,500 Premiership games (I exaggerate slightly) wouldn't you have done the same? Of course you would.

The comparison is rather trite, and as a fan of the round ball rather than the egg-shaped one I hate to bring it up… but Heskey has the build to make it as a rugby player, yet he behaves like a ballerina. The frailty of some of the Premiership's elite athletes is enough to bring smiles of derision from those who shun the beautiful game in favour of the ugly one, and sometimes it's no wonder.

Compare the Heskey incident to Neville's man-handling of Chimbonda when Man U played Spurs last week. Now THAT'S wrestling someone to the ground. And look at the way Ronaldo threw himself over Malbranque's leg in the same game… Flamini versus Heskey isn't in the same league as either incident, yet you would think the Arsenal man had committed the crime of the century.

There's a very serious point to be made here. In over-reacting the way they did, Sky's pundits are reinforcing the kind of behaviour they profess to abhor; namely ‘simulation' in all its forms. Arguing that Heskey was wrestled to the ground when he was in fact tapped lightly on the shoulder does nothing more than play into the hands of those who exaggerate the slightest contact in order to get the decisions they want.

Heskey did his best and exaggerated for all he was worth. Gray and Co. bought it, hook, line and sinker.

One final thing: if Eboue or Van Persie had tangled with the Wigan defence in exactly the same way, do you think Mr Gray would have got quite so hot under the collar?

We may be growing accustomed to a complete lack of impartiality from the Sky team, but yesterday's game set new standards. Kirkland was applauded for his ‘professionalism'. Henry was criticised for his passion. And when Djourou's face was re-arranged by Heskey's flailing elbows, the incident passed without comment.

He may profess to love the way Arsenal play, but Gray certainly doesn't love Arsenal.

And that fact is much, much clearer than the penalty that never was.