You're wrong, Arsene

WENGER (arguing with the referee) went berserk when Tottenham scored in the 66th minute.-AP WENGER (arguing with the referee) went berserk when Tottenham scored in the 66th minute.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger recently created a controversy insisting that rivals Tottenham, in the North London derby, should have put the ball out of play when two Gunners were lying on the ground after colliding against each other. That was the rule, according to Wenger. But it was not; it is simply a convention.

Recent games at top level in England have thrown up a host of controversy. By far the most explosive one came at Highbury on the occasion of a vital North London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs, at the time, had a lead of four points which put them in the crucial fourth position in the Premiership, a place which carries with it automatic entry to next season's European Champions League. They held a four-point lead over the Gunners, though they had played a game more. Were Spurs to retain that fourth spot, then the way for Arsenal, who are about to move into their vast nearby new stadium, would be to win the current European Champions League. Quite an obstacle.

I attended the game in which Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, left out several of his first-choice players clearly with the imminent Villarreal game three days later in his mind. Most notably he left out the incomparable Thierry Henry and the little Spanish teenaged prodigy, midfielder Cesc Fabregas. Not to mention Alexander Hleb and the forceful right-back Emmanuel Eboue Though he, as we shall see, somewhat fatefully, did come on later; as did Henry and Fabregas.

Spurs should really have been a couple of goals up by half time. Aaron Lennon, the little Spurs right-winger, danced past defenders as though they were statues, while the midfielder Michael Carrick went past a posse of defenders, eluded even keeper Jens Lehmann only and inexplicably to shoot into the side netting.

The crucial moment came after 66 minutes. Going for the same ball, Eboue and Gilberto crashed into one another and fell to the ground, where Eboue initially remained. Spurs played on, Carrick passed the ball to the little Dutch international Edgar Davids on the left wing and he, unopposed, made ground to cross for Robbie Keane to score with ease.

Wenger, quite simply, went berserk. He rounded on his opposite number, Martin Jol, and had violent words with him, later accusing him of being a liar when he said that he did not see what happened, subsequently insisting that he had been shouting at Davids to stay onside. Wenger also had a fierce clash with Davids in the players' tunnel after the final whistle.

At the press conference afterwards, he fulminated. Spurs, he insisted, should have put the ball out of play. That was the rule.

But Wenger was reminded that it was not the rule. It is simply a convention that when a player goes down injured, the opposition puts the ball into touch and when the game is restarted the other side throws the ball into their possession. Yet nothing in the laws of the game obliges a team to perform such a charitable act, not least when the injury results from a collision between two men of the same side; as the referee afterwards emphasised. He had felt obliged to let play go on.

I reminded Wenger of a somewhat similar incident a few years ago in an FA Cup tie at Highbury against Sheffield United. The game was restarted with a throw in after United had put the ball out to facilitate treatment to an injured Gunner. Arsenal's Nwankwo Kanu, instead of restoring the ball to the opposition, probably more na�ve than crafty, trotted unopposed down the right flank, before putting the ball into the goalmouth where it was duly tapped in for an Arsenal goal. The convention, not the rule, pray, had been well and truly subverted.

Furore had ensued then. United were incensed. A sporting Wenger demanded that though his team had won, the game should be replayed. Astonishingly, Wenger's wish was almost immediately granted by David Davies, the FA executive on duty that Saturday evening.

But the referee had been right to award the goal, whatever the moral aspect, and Davies was totally wrong in law to overrule him. Just as the referee who gave Spurs their goal was wholly within his rights. Not so Wenger, who inexcusably called Jol a liar and raged against what he felt his team had suffered. True, Henry did score a fine equaliser, but that still kept Tottenham four points ahead.

The same evening as the controversial North London derby, another London club, the immensely wealthy Chelsea, lost their FA Cup semifinal in Manchester to Liverpool. Jose Mourinho, you may remember, was inveighing against the decision of the referee and linesman to disallow a goal by Didier Drogba in the lost local derby at Fulham a few weeks earlier. He had plainly handled the ball, though probably unseen by either official, and Fulham's protest had decided the outcome.

After the defeat by Liverpool, Mourinho, never a good loser, had another complaint, but one with a certain basis. The opening Liverpool goal against a Chelsea team, almost perversely deployed without wingers and with a creaky so-called diamond formation, came when a foul was given against John Terry. Not a foul, insisted Mourinho, and many would agree.

The Chelsea centre back stretched for the ball beyond an opponent and was penalised for alleged dangerous play. The decision was harsh, and it instantly brought a Liverpool goal. But when Drogba, in a clear off-side position, was allowed to turn back and pick up the ball while still offside, it looked a certain goal; till he shot wide.

Just previously, Liverpool had scored another contentious goal. At Blackburn's expense, a refereeing decision helped them to victory. Djibril Cisse, their French attacker, was standing palpably offside in the box when the ball came to him. He stretched out a foot, then realising he mustn't under the new interpretation of offside, drew it back, enabling the ball to reach Robbie Fowler, who easily scored the winner.

According to Keith Hackett, the chief of referees, Cisse wasn't offside because he didn't touch the ball! Yet his outstretched foot must surely have affected the defenders. Makes no sense to me.