It might strike some people as surprising that, whilst on a football pitch career-threatening tackles still happen, players needle one another constantly and bully referees, there remain some things that are considered extremely bad form. For example, to showboat when you are winning comfortably is considered arrogant and to humiliate an opponent in this way wrong.
Similarly, you’ll never hear players say “They were absolutely rubbish – a pub team” or “Of course I won the midfield battle, John Smith opposite me has two left legs”.
Perhaps it’s because of this that Evra’s comments last season – describing the semi-final of the European Cup as ‘men against children’ – were taken so badly by the Arsenal players. Never mind that anyone sitting in the Grove that night would have agreed. The fact is, he said it and the Arsenal players haven’t forgotten this sleight.
It’s had an effect he probably didn’t consider when he made the comments in the first place. To find out what, just read Alex Song’s comments in this excellent Telegraph column:
“We will never forget that. It was very difficult to lose the game but, when you wake up in the morning, you see the newspaper and you see someone saying they played against 11 kids. That, for me, is not respect. You cannot say that. Barcelona won everything last year and they didn’t say things like that. When we go there, everyone wants to show him we are not kids. We will see, but we are confident.”
It acted as a big motivator for the league game – which if I recall was a bit tetchy and ended 0-0 – and it’s still acting as a big motivator. Couple that with Eduardo’s Uefa charge – a “witch-hunt” and a “complete disgrace” says Wenger – and the Arsenal players will have no problem getting up for this afternoon’s match.
The media coverage of Eduardo’s dive has been unbelievable. All I will say further is that a) Uefa will find it hard to prove that Eduardo intentionally deceived the referee, even if it was a dive and b) Uefa have opened an enormous can of worms and face an anti-dive workload that could overwhelm them, assuming they choose to be equitable and go after all miscreants with as much vigour.
Onto this evening, and I must say I’m confident we can put in a good showing. Of course it’s a very tough place to come away from with a result. But our form is good, the children will be keen to put in a good performance against the men, and Utd have injury problems as we do. It’s a big test for our 4-3-3 as much as anything, but it’s a big test for both teams, both of whom have different points to prove. Are the champions as good this season despite two key departures? And are Arsenal ready, and strong enough, to mount a title challenge?
I’m massively looking forward to it.