Give a dog a bad name and hang him. Ashley Young may be somewhat notorious for falling – diving? – in the penalty area but it was bizarre to see Manchester United’s own supporters turning on him even to the extent of ridiculing him on the cover of a fan magazine after the penalty he gained in the European Cup tie in San Sebastian against Real Sociedad.
The deep irony being that on this occasion at least, Young was certainly fouled by a player who could be called a recidivist; one guilty of constant offences. For the player whose gentle but unquestionable pull at Young’s arm, Markel Bagara, loud in his subsequent protests, has form in abundance.
The referee on this occasion not only gave the spot kick but also presented Bagara with his third yellow card of the competition. It has been shrewdly suggested that what the hostile United fans were really damning was not the latest fall, legitimate or otherwise, by Young but his recent poor form.
A few days later in the Premier League at least two infinitely more debatable penalties were given. One got Chelsea off the hook at Stamford Bridge, thereby dubiously preserving the phenomenal unbeaten record of 65 home matches established by the Special One, Jose Mourinho.
West Bromwich Albion, the visitors, were deservedly 2-1 ahead in stoppage time when the flying Brazilian Ramires came down in the box having rebounded off the pursuing defender Steven Reid, a manifestly innocent party. The referee Andre Marriner inexplicably gave a penalty, which would arguably not have been seen at The Hawthorns and Eden Hazard duly equalised.
And at Swansea, even the usually cool and calm Danish manager and former star turn Michael Laudrup was outraged by the last gasp penalty at the Liberty Stadium which gave Stoke a 3-3 draw. When the ball brushed a palpably innocent Wayne Routledge on the arm, the referee Robert Madley gave Stoke the spot kick from which Charlie Adam scored. Not one Stoke player had appealed for a penalty. Roll on the time when cameras survey the box from behind the goal.
For a club with such a long and strong tradition in centre forwards, it is surprising to see Arsenal so short of them today. No question that there has been a great improvement this season in the form of their French striker, Olivier Giroud, an honest performer who has been scoring frequently, but was firing blanks in his team’s defeat at Manchester United.
But he is no Thierry Henry, his famed compatriot and when towards the finish Arsenal brought on the now hapless big Dane Nicklas Bendtner to partner him, you knew the game was up.
Bendtner has never been a modest young man, and, alas, with the passing of time he has become a peripheral one. Arsenal would surely have liked to sell him but where so far are the takers? He laments his lack of opportunity but when occasionally it comes, as it did so disastrously in a recent game against Chelsea, it only emphasises his deficiencies.
Yet who is ultimately to blame for this situation than Arsene Wenger? True, the loss of Robin Van Persie, scorer of the winner at Old Trafford to Manchester United was a disastrous one. But when this season began little was initially expected of Giroud who has exceeded without surpassing dramatically such expectations.
When Theo Walcott is at last fit again, perhaps Wenger will grant the wishes of the England right-winger to play him as striker. But that would still leave Arsenal with the problem of whom to use on the right flank. At Old Trafford they were notably devoid of real wingers while United not only had two fine strikers in Wayne Rooney and Van Persie but lively wingers in Antonio Valencia and the Japanese Shinji Kagawa, usually a central midfielder but adapting successfully.
The trouble is that Arsenal’s expensive young development programme has been a sparse provider of talent. Ashley Cole and now Jack Wilshere certainly, at long intervals, but not a striker yet in sight.