Ferguson claims Wenger ‘lets himself down’ with criticism
So much for the well-chronicled thaw in that relationship: weekends like this still leave Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson barely above freezing point.
They both niggled away yesterday ahead of tomorrow's latest Emirates encounter, Wenger first observing "there is no angel" among strikers in the course of a discussion about the penalties Wayne Rooney has won against his side.
Then Ferguson was less discreet, suggesting that his old adversary Wenger "lets himself down" with comments like those at Old Trafford last August in which he implied that Darren Fletcher set out deliberately to harm opponents.
The United manager's snap was sharpest, suggesting that Wenger was wrong-headed and guilty of double standards in his assertion after Arsenal's incendiary 2-1 Premier League defeat, that Fletcher was guilty of "anti-football".
"I think that's where Arsene lets himself down with his own view of the Arsenal players," Ferguson said. "Everyone knows that Darren Fletcher is not a dirty player, not a physical player, not built that way. But he can win the ball because his timing and energy to get to the ball is fantastic. You can't call that a fault. It's disappointing. I don't think he (Wenger) really believes that. Sometimes it happens that way."
Professional rivalry has its limits, of course, and Ferguson, following up on representations made to fans' groups by his club's chief executive, David Gill, last season, insisted that the vile 'paedophile' chants aimed at Wenger over the past few years must stop.
"I know there's been some terrible abuse from our fans to Arsene Wenger and there must be a line drawn.
"I think they must know that themselves." Ferguson has also been on the receiving end. "Sometimes I can't hear these chants and I can't make them out," he reflected.
Not for nothing does the Scot label an encounter "the biggest game of the season". Fletcher carries into it the personal injustice of his own dismissal in last season's Champions League semi-final at the Emirates. "That won't bother Darren," Ferguson said.
Wenger has his own worries, of course, not least facing the threat of the country's most in-form striker with a 35-year-old centre-half who has played in League Two this season. Sol Campbell is by no means certain to start tomorrow.
The Frenchman was also persuaded to reminisce about the occasions when Rooney won penalties against Arsenal. The most infamous was in October 2004 when Campbell was wrongly judged to have fouled Rooney in the game at Old Trafford that ended Arsenal's 49-match unbeaten run.
In August, Rooney won a penalty against Manuel Almunia, a less debatable award but one that raised the question as to whether he fell before contact was made, prompting Wenger to point out that "there is no angel" when it comes to strikers.
With Eduardo's tumble against Celtic the same month he was careful not to take the moral high ground. Wenger said: "You know how strikers are. There is no angel. They play a game. If you look at the penalty (Rooney won) at Old Trafford this season you cannot say it is not a penalty because Almunia really goes for it. The ball was already out and Rooney took advantage of the fact Almunia had already dived. You can say that it is intelligent. But the border between intelligence and starting to cheat, every striker plays with that.
Whether Campbell will play is another matter because Thomas Vermaelen has made a rapid recovery from what was a suspected broken leg against Aston Villa and will be back, Wenger said, "against Chelsea (on February 7) at the latest". (© Independent News Service)