Arsene Wenger recently revealed the reason he often claimed not to see foul play by his Arsenal players was to protect them because he could not find an explanation for the act. It was a frank admission from the Frenchman, and his defence of Eduardo in Wednesday's 3-1 Champions League play-off win over Celtic alludes to more of the same philosophy.
The Croatian striker has been accused of diving to win a penalty following a challenge from the Bhoys keeper Artur Boruc. Eduardo scored the spotkick which sent Arsenal on their way to a 5-1 aggregate success and a place in the group stage. Celtic fumed and following calls for action Uefa will now launch a review with the prospect of a two-match ban for the player. Uefa similarly punished the Lithuania winger Saulius Mikoliunas in 2007 after TV footage showed he dived to win a penalty against Scotland.
Michel Platini, the Uefa president, says two additional assistant referees, one behind each goalline - a scheme on trial in the Europa League this season - would help reduce this problem. He added: "One day players will give up simulating because referees will see them. For years, players have cheated because the referees were not of a good enough quality. "I am convinced if you have referees close by that will prevent players from simulating and players will take the right decision."
Three years ago, Wenger himself called for players to be suspended if they are guilty of diving, but he was quick to defend his own here, suggesting the way Eduardo jumped may have been a flashback to the horrific challenge from Martin Taylor in 2008 which left him with a broken leg and ankle. He added: "I do not want a penalty which is not a penalty, but I do not go as far to say Eduardo dived. I never asked in my life any guy to dive to win a penalty, but sometimes the players go down because there is no other way to escape the tackling of the keeper. Sometimes they dive.
"We got a penalty [against us] two years ago in the quarter-final of the Champions League [at Liverpool] that made the difference when [Ryan] Babel dived. Nobody ever apologised to us. It was a blatant dive and nobody spoke about it." Wenger has said his young players had matured enough for them to remain challengers for the major prizes and he has been vindicated thus far. Their average age against Celtic was 23.9, but it is now four wins this season and four fabulous performances producing 15 goals.
While his players must now prepare for the Europa League, the Celtic manager Tony Mowbray feels Arsenal "are a team who can win this competition". Tomorrow's Premier League trip to Manchester United will be an indication of Arsenal's merits and Wenger added: "You want to have a high level of confidence when you go to Old Trafford and we have that at the moment." firstname.lastname@example.org