Feb 19, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
The replay seemed clear, though in Arsène Wenger’s defense, he eventually confessed that he still needed to “see [the play] again.” But after his team’s 2-0 loss to Bayern Munich, that didn’t stop the Arsenal boss from claiming München attacker Arjen Robben “made more of [the contact]” he received from Wojciech Szczesny in Wednesday’s 37th minute. The Arsenal goalkeeper was shown a straight red card, leaving the Gunners to play with 10 men for 53 minutes in their UEFA Champions League defeat.
The incident occurred when Bayern midfielder Toni Kroos, from the middle of his attacking half, lofted a ball over the Arsenal defense, sending Robben in alone on Szczesny. The Arsenal keeper came out to try and beat Robben to the ball, but when the Dutch international played a touch past the challenge and toward goal, Szczesny’s outstretched leg brought him down, denying the attacker a goal scoring opportunity.
Wenger, speaking post-match, claimed Robben embellished the Szczesny’s contact, which wouldn’t have justified a sending off in every league.
“I think the rules are different in every country,” Wenger said, asked about the sending off. “Our‘keeper went for the ball but he touched Robben, who certainly made more of it. That’s what I told [Robben].
“[The call] killed the game. The game was top quality until then, in the second half it was boring. It was one way traffic. The referee made the decision that killed the game.”
Wenger stopped short of describing Robben’s act with the d-word, but when asked if he was accusing the Bayern attacker of diving, he did everything but stamp the label on Bayern’s entire squad.
“[Robben] has enough experience to know to make more of it,” Wenger said of Robben. “Overall, Bayern made a lot of every single contact. We are not used to that in England.”
What they are used to in England (and everywhere else in the world) is managers seeing games from a very partisan perspective – a view so biased that coaches see what you want rather than what actually happened. Given license to say whatever they feel in the wake of a disappointing loss, managers are allowed to discard perspective and balance and indulge their most jaded, often conspiratorial fantasies. At least this time, the manager in question stopped short of saying the officials were actively working against him.
Perhaps Robben did exaggerate the effect of Szczesny’s contact, but it’s too much to imply a goalkeeper tripping an attacker moving in on goal would be called differently in other countries. There is, after all, a reason Szczesny left the field with almost no protest, with more disappointment than surprise when he was shown the red card. If Wenger is imagining a world where such plays don’t end with a whistle, he may also be imagining a world where his post-match comments don’t sound embittered by his goalkeeper’s error.
To Wenger’s credit, he did concede Szczesny may have been culpable, albeit slightly.
“The regret I have tonight, Wojiech misjudged the situation, maybe,” Wenger said, before going on to address the sanction. “It was no clear desire to make a foul. It completely killed the game.
“I feel frustrated. It was a great football game until half time, and it was no game at all after half time. On a European night it was very frustrating.”
Equally frustrating: The implication that certain games should have a different set of rules than others. That’s what Wenger is implying when he suggests the quality of the play and the Champions League occasion should have been part of the decision-making process. Though he doesn’t come straight out and say it, that’s always the subtext when managers try to add circumstance and the game’s flow to the list of factors a referee should consider.
Overall, the press conference comes off as whining, which is understandable. Perhaps other managers would handle themselves differently, but it’s no mystery why a man who saw his team perform well for 37 minutes feels bitter after his goalkeeper’s momentary lapse. That lapse has his team down two and on the brink of elimination from Champions League.
Reporting from Joe Prince-Wright contributed to this post.
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