Arsenal should be in the dock with City’s Adebayor

(by Hugo Saye)

Life is rarely quiet at the Emirates Stadium at the moment. Arsene Wenger must be wishing for an easy ride but controversy seems to be stalking Arsenal in the opening weeks of the season and just as the world seems to have had its fill of the Eduardo incident, Emmanuel Adebayor’s actions against his former team have left them blinking into the spotlight once again. This time though they are being allowed some semblance of moral high ground, perhaps more than they deserve, in contrast to the behaviour of the other party.

Adebayor’s reputation has taken a battering since Saturday afternoon. Many Arsenal fans would tell you the rest of the world is simply starting to see him as they have for some time: “selfish”, “arrogant” and “mercenary” are just a few of the words thrown about by Gooners in any discussion of the Togolese striker. But rarely in football is the situation that simple. Surely, after the animosity of the fallout between Arsenal and Adebayor, a highly-charged match between the two just a couple of weeks into the new season is not a reliable context in which to judge the player’s character?

For those who do not know, the Manchester City striker seemed to stamp Cesc Fabregas’ ankle, rake his studs down Robin van Persie’s face and then proceeded to sprint 90 yards after scoring to celebrate in front of Arsenal’s fans. This last act received a yellow card from referee Mark Clattenburg, to which the player responded by waving his arms furiously towards the home support. It may look bad but even the most weighted of coins still has two sides, and both should be considered fairly when deciding where to apportion the blame in the aftermath of such an ugly encounter.

In his apology immediately after the match, Adebayor claimed that “emotions took over.” The danger in analysing the situation afterwards is that we let the same thing happen. That is why, despite criticism from some quarters about the sluggish nature of their actions, it is actually a good thing that the FA have taken a few days to let things calm down before finally levelling their charges at him today.

So what of it all? Why such hatred? Let’s not forget that those fans loved him once and he seemed to love them. And one only needs to consider the way Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires have been welcomed back to the club in the shirts of new teams and the support Theirry Henry’s Barcelona got from most Arsenal fans in last season’s Champions League Final to see that this is a fan-base that generally appreciates its former heroes.

But Adebayor is different. He claims innocence, saying it was not his fault that Milan and Barcelona showed interest in signing him. But that has gone down like a lead balloon with Arsenal fans, who believe that the striker is just lyiong through his teeth.

Arsenal are no strangers to having to fight off interest from other clubs for their stars players – transfer rumours about Fabregas are almost a weekly occurrence – but that never changed the fans’ affection for their squad members. But, while in general Arsenal fans have seen their players deny wantaway rumours, with Adebayor they watched on as he appeared to openly flirt with any club showing a modicum of interest. They then saw him demand a huge pay increase and allowed his work-rate to drop before finally leaving to frolic in Manchester’s bottomless new cash fountain.

Players are generally at a club for money and success but fans are there out of love: they don’t expect the player to feel the same but the least the fans want from them is to respect that. Arsenal’s fans do not feel that Adebayor did.

And so to Saturday. First things first, Adebayor’s actions on the day are inexcusable and he does deserve to banned by the FA. His tackle on Fabregas was dangerous, his ‘rake’ on van Persie not just brutal but potentially blinding had it been an inch or so to the right, and his incendiary motions to both sets of fans were hugely irresponsible. Players often receive abuse from fans of former clubs without feeling the need to act like he did.

But we cannot absolve Arsenal of all criticism. Van Persie’s challenge that preceded the studs to his face can be at best viewed as “a forward’s tackle” and at worst as dangerous and malicious. The main talking point though in the fans. Firstly, they have no excuse for responding to Adebayor’s celebration in the way they did. Their reckless fury lacked all consideration of consequence and resulted in an injury to a steward. Sure, football is a passionate business and it is easy for the individual to be swept up by mob mentality, but the mentality of the mob should not be that way inclined in the first place.

They also need to take some blame for winding the striker up in the first place. It is reported that they sung a disgusting song directed at him about his mother being a prostitute and his father washing elephants. They deny this, largely because – in a wonderful example of terrace logic – that particular ditty is a popular Spurs song. Their fans claim to have been singing a song by the same tune but praising Andrei Arshavin. This did include the line “We have Arshavin, f**k Adebayor,” but that is tame by the standards of abuse that modern day footballers find themselves subjected to on a regular basis.

Even if we give them the benefit of the doubt and accept that these were the words they sung, they were still in the wrong. Fans always like to promote their heroes, but it seems an odd chant to repeat all day when Arshavin himself was injured and played no part in the game. And bear in mind that English is not Adebayor’s mother tongue, there is a good chance he would simply have heard a tune he knows from trips to White Hart Lane and assumed the worst. There is also a good chance that those Arsenal fans would have known this and chosen to repeatedly sing the injured Russian’s song for exactly that reason.

Both Arsenal and Adebayor were in the wrong on Saturday, although it seems likely that it is only the Manchester City player who will receive any form of punishment and that will see him miss next week’s trip to Old Trafford and a number of other games. Mark Hughes could be forgiven for expecting better from his £25 million forward when his team is suffering a striker shortage a week before their biggest league game of the season, but he could also be forgiven for feeling aggrieved at seeing Arsenal get away scot-free.

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