Abou Diaby’s petulant match-turning red card against Newcastle was just the latest in a long line of controversial incidents on and off the pitch involving Arsenal’s players this season, which begs the question, is ill-discipline becoming a very real problem for the club to deal with?
Glancing at the statistics, Arsenal already have the third worst disciplinary record in the Premier League this season, which boasts a rather unenviable record of 6 red cards and 44 yellow cards. Contrast this with last season’s total of 56 yellows and 1 red card, which left them as the club with the third best disciplinary record in the league and the difference is startling.
Diaby’s red card was fully deserved at St James’ Park and his reaction was simply unacceptable. His dismissal came hot on the heals of another controversy involving the club; this time surrounding captain Cesc Fabregas and his supposed comments to the match official at half-time during the club’s home fixture against Everton.
David Moyes, not usually a manager to stick his ore unnecessarily into other people’s business, let alone court controversy, alluded to the fact that Fabregas questioned the referee’s integrity in the tunnel at half-time for allowing Louis Saha’s dubiously offside goal to stand.
Moyes opined: “Cesc Fabregas should have been sent off at half-time in the tunnel for the comments at the officials coming up the tunnel. It was disgusting.” Moyes later went onto clear things up a little better and it has since emerged that Fabregas asked fourth official Lee Mason how much Everton were paying him to swing the game in their favour – a ludicrous suggestion it has to be said.
It appears frustration got the better of Fabregas on this occasion. You simply cannot question the integrity of Everton football club and the match officials in the manner that he did. All it does is add fuel to the fire and it does nothing more than put manager Arsene Wenger immediately on the defensive after the result. At a time when the only topics Wenger should be discussing are his side’s fantastic comeback or the great resilience shown by his title contenders, he has to waste his time discussing incidents outside of his control.
But that is the point entirely – just how much control does Wenger have over this Arsenal side?
He is a father figure at the club, that much is beyond question, and he was also the main reason that Fabregas decided to stay in the summer despite overtures from his boyhood club Barcelona. This Arsenal side is the best team that Wenger has had at his disposal for the past 4-5 years and they remain Man Utd’s main challengers for the title this season.
They are not particularly bad natured, nor are they especially dirty, but there is a petulance that bubbles beneath the surface throughout the whole side and the manager has to take some credit for this. Wenger is widely known for his less than humble post-match remarks to the press, particularly in defeat and perhaps this attitude has seeped through to some of his players somewhat.
Jack Wilshere too was fortunate to escape FA censure over his comments via his Twitter feed after the Newcastle game where he questioned the quality of the decision-making of referee Phil Dowd. In all honesty, Wilshere made a sound enough point and Dowd did have a poor day at the office, but surely the club has to have a blanket set of guidelines for players on social networking sites? If they don’t, they should certainly look to install one in the near future.
Over at Liverpool, the furore that surrounded Ryan Babel after he posted a mocked up photo of Howard Webb in a Man Utd shirt proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back and he was out of the club within a matter of days.
It wasn’t necessarily what Wilshere said that was the main problem, it was the fact that it led to another series of difficult and needless questions for his manager to face. Wilshere, of course, is no stranger to trouble and the player in question has been involved in numerous scuffles off the pitch since his breakthrough into the Arsenal starting eleven, and while he’ll certainly mature with age, his penchant for getting himself into hot water is a worrying aspect to accompany his developing career.
On the pitch, this Arsenal side plays to the strict blueprint laid out by their astute manager, but off the pitch, Wenger seems to have a little more difficulty controlling this talented group of players.
A siege mentality is a great thing to have, especially if you can harness it to your benefit. Certain sides such as Liverpool and Chelsea thrive under one. But with the spotlight focussing on Arsenal’s title challenge at the moment, the sheer amount of newsworthy controversies dogging the club only serves to highlight that a degree of discipline needs to be brought back to the Emirates, before it has the potential to derail any title ambitions the club may harbour this campaign.