By Ray Fleming

IT was unfortunate that Arsenal's remarkable running record of 49 Premiership games without defeat should have ended in the controversial atmosphere that prevailed at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon. The run had to end sometime and in principle it was better that it should have been concluded by worthy opponents such as Manchester United than by one of the minor clubs. The dream scenario would then have seen the United players congratulating Arsenal for their achievement and the Highbury team receiving the plaudits of the Old Trafford crowd.

If only. The game was dominated by defences but the goalless draw that seemed inevitable was broken by a penalty decision for Manchester United that seemed questionable at best and outrageous at worst.

Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, did not hide his feelings in the post–game press conference, pointing out that the referee, Mike Riley, has awarded United eight penalties in his last eight matches officiating at Old Trafford. Although Mr Riley is often described as the best referee in Britain it is doubtful whether the Arsenal manager subscribes to that view; he was rightly furious that Rio Ferdinand was not booked and perhaps sent off for a blatant foul on Freddie Ljungberg earlier in the game.

Perhaps, on reflection, Mr Wenger and his players will be relieved that their unbeaten run has come to an end. It must have been an increasingly heavy burden for them to bear.

NOW they can simply concentrate on winning the Premiership again and doing better in Europe. Meanwhile those of us who have been able to watch some of Arsenal's peerless performances in the past eighteen months will want to thank them for their skill and spirit. They have restored faith in the idea that football can still be The Beautiful Game.


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