The Usual Suspects

Last updated : 22 September 2003 By Bernard Azulay

However the majority of them would go on to slaughter the source of their amusement in the Monday morning papers, as they described the "disgraceful scenes" that took place in the Theatre of Dreams.

I have to tell you that I and three thousand other Gooners massed in what is fast becoming quite a welcoming little corner of Mancunian turf all thought we were dreaming when Van N's venomous penalty rebounded off the crossbar. With our hearts in our mouths, we assumed that all hope of a humble point had walked the plank the moment ref Bennnett pointed towards the penalty spot, considering the Dutchman's usually clinical finishing. One might have thought we'd just won the Premiership itself the way we celebrated.

In view of the underlying tension which must have been present in players who were going into a game where defeat might have been the death-knell to an entire season, where their confidence would have required a Lazarus like comeback, is it that surprising that their feelings found some expression at the final whistle? Naturally I would have much preferred for them to have vented their emotions in a more responsible fashion than their display of playground posturing around Van the cheating man.

I doubt it would have occurred to our lot that they played a direct part in raising the temperature on the terraces beyond boiling point. I was waiting for admittance into the press facility and watched with horror as some harmless looking Gooners who had made the mistake of heading against the tide of departing Utd fans who expressed their disgust with a similar lack of self control. I was just grateful that I had the sense to be more anonymous because wearing Arsenal colours they were obvious targets and I was relieved to see them escape from getting a "good kicking" as they sought sanctuary in the stands.

However I have to tell you that in this apathetic age when we regularly have cause to question the hunger of players who pick up their substantial pay packets, win lose or draw, there is some part of me that was quite proud to witness this proof of some of our players passion. Although I very much doubt this thought will be to the fore when I am cursing the foolishness which is likely to see them sitting out vital encounters, suspended as a result.

The replay I am looking forward to seeing is the one which shows our goalies very amateur dramatics when he threw himself to the floor in a manner which Norman Wisdom himself would have been proud of. We were all laughing our heads off at Lehmann's antics. I find all talk of points being deducted as our punishment just as laughable. Compared to the infamous mass brawl this was pure "handbags" stuff of the sort that has now become the norm as the intense rivalry between these two great sides has developed over the years. These are human beings we are talking about and until such time as there are 22 insensitive robots involved in these great encounters, they are bound to boil over occasionally. Thankfully on the pitch, pride was the only thing to be hurt and for those poor few Gooners who were left nursing their bruises, a points deduction really would be adding insult to their injuries.

As for the game itself, I felt the fear of losing was such an inhibiting factor that both sides failed to produce the sparkling football we know them to be capable of. A policy of hanging on to what they had was probably the reason why Wenger didn't introduce Pires and Wiltord late on, when Arsenal fans were hoping they might take advantage of tired legs. Whereas it was obvious from the way Utd were fired up for the second half, that Fergie must have got his hairdryer out at half-time. Replacing O'Shea with Forlan was further indication that he wasn't happy settling for a draw. After our woeful result against Inter on Wednesday, I imagine he would have been desperate to take advantage of this opportunity to virtually nail the lid shut on the Arsenal's season.

Mercifully they didn't manage and I am hoping that having got this game out of the way, whilst at the same time reestablishing our right to challenge for the title with all tabloid coffin chasers who have been reading our defence their last rights, we can use what without doubt felt like a moral victory (in footballing terms at least!) as a springboard for further success.

Meanwhile it took us two hours crawling along in traffic before we even reached the motorway on our tortuous six hour drive home. However our load was lightened by the news of the lamentable goings on at White Hart Lane. I never fail to be amazed by the foibles of football. What other enterprise in the world would give a man so many millions to spend a mere few weeks before sacking him. Still it was comforting to know that Hoddle's departure had been perfectly timed to deflect some of the tabloid attention away from their relentless efforts to remind us about the Arsenal's disciplinary dilemmas!