Date: 24th May 2009 at 10:42am
Written by:

You’d think someone named in honour of Arsenal’s assistant manager, and former full back legend of the Arsenal double winning side of ’71, might be a little more circumspect when protesting as loudly as he has been over the last week.

PatRice Evra has been squealing a little too much – or maybe the press have been making just a little too much of it.

Either way, after he claimed with some, albeit rather smug, justification that the earlier CL encounter was a game of ‘men against babies’ inevitably the league game a few days later was bound to be a game in which the players felt they had something to prove. Paradoxically Evra`s indignation has maybe highlighted something we need to rediscover.

In the context of some previous encounters at Old Trafford, in which we have been on the receiving end of some pretty malevolent treatment, last weekend`s game was a pretty tame affair though we finished it with 4 players in the book. If only our players, Reyes of note, had received then the same protection in other encounters at Old Trafford that Evra says he was offered by referee Mike Dean in this game. Evra claims that Dean had a word in his ear “I want to say thanks to the referee as he came to me and said ‘Pat, I don`t know what`s going on but a lot of the Arsenal players are angry with you.”

I suppose that maybe good refereeing though it also carries an undertone of ‘homer’ about it. Maybe he could have had a word with the Arsenal captain if he was genuinely concerned, after all he has the power to control the game and its players.

Given our respective positions in the fair play league Evra’s assertion that the game is about “….helping to win the game – it`s not to kick someone back. It`s not the way to play football” might be considered by some to have an air of pious humbug.

I have no doubt that some players were robust in their play in this game but probably Fabregas’ challenge, which was a poor one it should be said, was the only one that warranted a booking by the standards which other teams seem to be judged by. One of United’s strengths has been the ability to know when to mix it when the situation demands and their position in this season’s fair play league is secondary to their position in the Premier League. Previous Arsenal teams have also had that edge to their game and indeed we had gained some excessive notoriety for it at one time. Feeling that there is a point to be made gives us back, temporarily at least, the edge that we have missed at times. Perhaps we need to be angry a little more frequently.

It’s a sad fact that while we have performed better in the fair play league over recent seasons we haven’t reached our ambitions in the league that matters. We should always aim to do both of course but maybe the spirit we carried into the game against United is the ‘maturity’ that Evra identified as missing. If maturity is in knowing how to organise your play so that ‘necessary’ fouls aren`t made by the same player it is.

When it comes to the Premier League maybe a reputation for an appropriate level of ‘nastiness’ is no bad thing to have. But referees whispering in our players’ ears ‘don`t worry – I`ll look after you’ would be even better.

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