Arsene Wenger 'surprised' by images of Arsenal and Man United players hugging and kissing before game
Arsene Wenger was just as “surprised” to see his Arsenal players hugging members of the Manchester United team in the tunnel before Sunday’s Premier League encounter as leading pundits were, but stressed that it is now part of the game and can be seen all over the world.
The Arsenal left-back, Nacho Monreal, came in for particular criticism from former United defender Phil Neville, who was near-disgusted by the sight of the two rival teams “hugging and kissing” seconds before emerging from the tunnel at the Emirates Stadium.
Wenger, who managed Arsenal through the volatile years when Alex Ferguson’s United side were locked in title battles with Gunners, also said that the sight of the niceties before the game came as something of a shock, but urged the likes of Neville to look at other rivalries such as El Clasico where they will see the same.
“The pundits are a bit surprised by that because 10 or 15 years ago that did not exist but it is an overall international thing," Wenger said at his pre-match press conference ahead of Wednesday’s Premier League trip to Southampton.
"You can see in Real Madrid vs Barcelona they come from the same place, play for the same country.
“I am surprised as well but it does not stop players from concentrating on the game. It is part of the modern game.
“Also, there are more cameras now. Maybe it happened before but there were no cameras in the tunnel.”
Wenger’s explanation is unlikely to appease Neville, who played during the heated rivalries that frequently saw Arsenal and United clash in violent scenes on the pitch – and sometimes off it in Patrick Vieira’s and Roy Keane’s instance – while former Arsenal defender Martin Keown was in agreement with his ex-England colleague.
"This is a nonsense to me," Neville said on Match of the Day 2 at the weekend. "It's a total nonsense. Look at Wayne Rooney there: old school, looking forward and not hugging or kissing.
"I think [Nacho] Monreal's going to a Christening there rather than a football game. I can't imagine doing that to Martin Keown ten years ago in a tunnel at Highbury."
Keown added: "Listen, this is modern day and this is what players are like. As long as they do the business on the pitch... I hated it when the French players were like this with one another, the English players certainly didn't do it.”
But Neville was having none of it, and urged players to leave the niceties until after the match. "It doesn't matter if you know them,” he said. “You see each other in the bar afterwards. But before a game just concentrate in the tunnel."