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Wenger has no room for complaint

SUCH a big game was bound to be potentially explosive and the Manchester United v Arsenal clash on Sunday certainly lived up to expectations.

SUCH a big game was bound to be potentially explosive and the Manchester United v Arsenal clash on Sunday certainly lived up to expectations.

The fact that Arsenal were trying to stretch their unbeaten run to 50 games added fuel to the fire, but despite Arsene Wenger's complaints, I don't think the Gunners had much to moan about at the end of the game. They had their share of controversial decisions going their way during that remarkable run.

The media have had a field day, especially with the antics in the tunnel after the final whistle between the two managers, but it was events on the field which interested me more.

Wayne Rooney has been called a cheat and a diver for his part in the opening goal and Ruud van Nistelrooy is being charged with serious foul play by the FA, but the man I feel sorry for is referee Mike Riley.

Action replays showed that Sol Campbell didn't touch Rooney in the incident which resulted in a penalty, but from where he was standing and without the benefit of TV replays, I believe the referee had no choice. He saw Campbell put his leg out and Rooney went over.

I wouldn't go as far as to suggest Rooney was cheating. As a former striker, I know players have to anticipate what defenders are going to do.

When you are going flat out towards goal and the adrenalin is flowing it only takes something like a defender sticking out a leg to make you react and sometimes that can throw you off balance and cause you to go down.

Only Rooney will know what really happened but I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. Riley called it as he saw it and that's fair enough.

Of course, there have been indefensible instances of diving and until players cut that out, the referees are not going to have a fair chance of making the right call.

If a referee believes a player has cheated, he should get the card out and, by the same token, managers should take disciplinary action.

There is no doubt in my mind that diving and a lot of fouls which go on in the penalty area, particularly at set pieces, like shirt-tugging and defenders wrapping their arms around attackers, have crept into the British game since the influx of European players began.

This kind of thing hardly ever happened when I was playing with Liverpool. There were very few foreign players in the English leagues at that time, so it was a rude awakening for me when I went to Juventus.

They got up to all the tricks in the book in the Italian league and I found it frustrating and difficult to come to terms with. Tugging, pushing and holding were part for the game in Serie A and the referees seemed to turn a blind eye, but now these cynical tactics are becoming commonplace in the Premiership.

It is refreshing at Chester City's level to be part of what I would call a British way of playing. We hardly ever see any diving or sneaky fouling in the penalty area, but, of course, we have very few foreign players in our league.

Having said that, one of our players, Cortez Belle, was criticised by the Grimsby Town manager Russell Slade on Saturday. He said he couldn't understand how Belle managed to stay on the pitch.

I took that as a compliment to Belle. It showed Slade was busier watching him than concentrating on his own team, which only benefited Chester City.

Belle is still raw but he is a big man, is very competitive and makes his presence felt, which is fine by me. I didn't approve of him getting booked for dissent but he will learn from experience.

It's the FA Cup first-round draw this weekend and I'm looking forward to it. I love this competition and when I was a boy I used to dream about scoring the winning goal at Wembley. Later, I was lucky enough to do just that and pick up three winner's medals with Liverpool.

During my season in the Chester first team before moving to Anfield, we reached the fifth round, losing at Ipswich, but beating Newcastle United on the way, so it would be great to emulate that run this season.

While the league has to be our priority, I believe in doing our best in every competition we enter. The first two rounds are always the hardest with the chance of meeting non-league clubs. In these rounds we are the big club and the nonleaguers treat these games as their cup final.

While we dream of playing one of the giants in round three, you can't turn form on and off like a tap, so it is vital to make sure we have the right attitude and give each game 100% physically and mentally or we could come a cropper.

 

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