Arsenal’s trip to Manchester City on Saturday was always likely to be a potential tinderbox. City are the arrivistes, the newly-minted money and Arsenal are the team whose Champions League place they are most likely to take. All of this if without taking Emmanuel Adebayor into account. Adebayor’s louche presence in the team was, to many Arsenal supporters, a key indicator of their difficulties in front of goal last season. Often coming across as all style and no substance, his departure to The City of Manchester Stadium was greeted with indifference by some Arsenal supporters, whilst others had taken against him for his lack or urgency last season. Either way, there didn’t seem to be many that mourned his departure.
This didn’t, of course, prevent a section of their support venting their fury at him on Saturday. Prior to the match Adebayor was hanging about in the Arsenal half of the pitch during the warm up (which was described by former Arsenal defender Lee Dixon on “Match Of The Day 2″ last night “disrespectful”, although he failed to expand upon how this was, exactly), and it was clear that he was “up” for this match – and not in a particularly healthy way – from more or less the first kick of the ball.
Within ten minutes, he should have been booked for a tackle on Cesc Fabregas. In the second half, his boot to Fabregas’ face should have resulted in an automatic red card. His actions, seeming to look down before the stamp, certainly gave the impression of a degree of pre-meditation and his lack of apology betrayed a lack of courtesy which seemed to demonstrate a lack of remorse for what he had done. He was exceptionally lucky that the referee didn’t seem to see the incident, or he would have found himself off the pitch and his team with an immeasurably harder job to do.
And then came the goal celebration. It goes without saying that most professional footballers aren’t the most cerebrally blessed in the world, but Adebayor’s reaction was absurd and petulant. He had got his revenge and done his work by scoring against his former club. The best that one can say in his defence is that he didn’t even stop to think about what he was going to do. Running the length of the pitch and diving to celebrate in front of the opposing supporters, though, was such an act of rank stupidity that he can hardly complain when (and such has been the reaction to the incident that it is likely to be a “when” rather than an “if”) the FA and/or the Premier League throw the book at him.
There has been discussion of the fact that because he was booked for the celebration, there is nothing further that the authorities can do over this particular incident, but it is hardly helping his case when he comes to face them over the tackle. It is difficult to imagine that he won’t face a lengthy ban – more than three matches – over his behaviour, and rightly so. There have been several incidents of players behaving exceptionally badly and disrespectfully during goal celebrations and at the end of matches recently (the recent Championship match between Nottingham Forest and Derby County, after which Forest player Nathan Tyson seemed to goad Derby supporters after his club’s 3-2 win springs immediately to mind), and it seems likely that there will have to be some sort of clampdown on this sort of behaviour.
Of course, the Arsenal supporters shouldn’t have reacted in the way that they did. Throwing missiles onto the pitch, even if it did include – bizarrely – a small child’s plastic stool can hardly be condoned by any right thinking people. However, what we seem to be seeing here is a spiral of intimidation, provocation, blame and counter-blame. There comes a point at which everybody needs to take a step back and understand that this is going too far. Football supporters have to understand that it is not acceptable to throw missiles and that – and this certainly isn’t aimed specifically at Arsenal supporters – the rising level of abuse being thrown at players doesn’t cover any of us in much glory either.
On the other hand, however, footballers are professionals and it goes without saying that they should be able to rise above any level of abuse that they receive. A line in the sand has to be drawn, and it is almost certainly for the best for that line to err on the side of caution. Emmanuel Adebayor is a brilliant footballer, something which he demonstrated too infrequently last season for Arsenal but did show the world on Saturday afternoon. If it takes a hefty ban to make him think a bit more about the less agreeable side of his game, though, so be it.