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Dec 16, 2006

Has the Professor lost his cool?

ARSENAL2-2 PORTSMOUTH

There was a time when Arsene Wenger was the coolest man in English football.

Amid the most contentious of heated incidents, his ability to stay calm and make the right decisions infuriated old foes like Sir Alex Ferguson and ensured that Arsenal were capable of competing with the best in the land on a budget that shouldn't have allowed them to even get close.

Yet time and again in the last 12 months Wenger has been embroiled in incidents that have left a scar on his reputation and in this thrilling stalemate with Portsmouth, he lost his temper once again and found himself banished to the stands by referee Steve Bennett.

His side's inability to defend set-plays clearly annoyed him to the point that he had to attack the referee as the teams wandered off for their half-time break and even though his argument carried some merit, he is likely to be in hot water with the game's authorities just a few days after he was fined £10,000 for last month's touchline scrap with Alan Pardew at West Ham.

Looking moody and agitated as he faced the media after his side dropped two more points on home soil, he was in unrepentant mood. 'I complained about the free-kick that led to Portsmouth's opening goal and the referee sent me off,' he confirmed. 'It meant I had to sit a few rows behind the dug-out for the season half, but I don't expect the FA to take action on this situation.

'I did not swear at the referee because I was not educated in England and I'm not familiar with these words. I hope people don't say I should go to jail because this is a minor incident.

'For me, the foul was clear and the free-kick should have been given to us, but the referee saw it the other way. Still, my position in the stands did not affect the game and I can only give credit to my players for fighting back.

'We have played three times a week for ten weeks in a row and it would have been easy for my players to give up when it went against them, but they battled so well.'

The sight of Sol Campbell lining up against his side would not have done much to improve Wenger's mood before a ball was kicked in this game. It generally takes an especially annoying individual to upset the Arsenal boss, yet Campbell seemed to fall into that category as he left Arsenal last summer.

While the centre-back's future with the North London club always seemed cloudy after his infamous 'walk-out' mid-way through the Gunners' home games against West Ham, Wenger's decision to release the player is believed to have been on the condition that he fulfilled the final ambition of his career by playing abroad.

Some may argue that the south coast outpost Portsmouth is close to being aboard, yet as a regular visitor to Wenger's Friday lunchtime press briefings, your correspondent can confirm that the Arsenal manager was more than a little stunned when the former England centre-back chose to sign a big-money contract at Fratton Park.

Campbell has, of course, got history in this department as his departure from Tottenham to Arsenal was conducted with a similarly cynical streak, with his focus on chasing the pound note apparently more important than who he might upset along the way.

We all have strong and weak periods in our life, but the strong people come through and bounce back.
Arsene Wenger on Sol Campbell
Wenger's frustration at Campbell's summer transfer has yet to wane and he used his programme notes for this game against Pompey to have one final dig. 'I'm not sure if Sol needed change during the summer,' he wrote. 'I just think he had gone through a difficult patch in his life which can happen to anyone. We all have strong and weak periods in our life, but the strong people come through and bounce back.'

Campbell would have been useful to Arsenal in what has been an indifferent first half of the season. Conceding goals from set-plays has been one of the primary flaws in Arsenal's make-up this season and much of that can be put down to the novice back four Wenger has been forced to field. Meanwhile, big Sol has been excelling at the heart of a solid Portsmouth defence, which will have done little to ease the frustration of the Gunners boss.

The Arsenal fans are clearly a more forgiving bunch. A week after the fortunate few who got into the Chelsea game at Stamford Bridge had their chance to lambaste Arsenal's other major summer defensive departure, the dastardly Ashley Cole, the Emirates Stadium faith afforded Campbell a warm round of applause when his name was read out by Arsenal's ever-annoying PA announcer.

Yet those fans were less than happy with their former hero as his Portsmouth side took a deserved lead on the stroke of half-time, with ex-Spurs man Noe Pamarot heading home as the Gunners again failed to defend a set-play that was generously awarded to them.

As Pompey's Matt Taylor looped his second brilliant goal in as many games past a despairing Jens Lehmann just two minutes after the restart, the jeers began to ring out around Emirates Stadium and Wenger's crisis was very real. For the first time, Arsenal had conceded two goals at their new home stadium and the young side they had on show could easily have folded under the pressure.

Yet the introduction of Emmanuel Adebayor changed the course of the game and they scored twice within two second half minutes, with the aforementioned substitute and Gilberto rescuing a point. It was thrilling stuff, but all the talk in the press conference focused on Wenger's latest disciplinary indiscretion.

Ever-entertaining Portsmouth boss, Harry Redknapp, believes Wenger's recent temper tantrums can be easily explained. 'It's difficult for the managers at the top of the league to accept that they can't win all the time,' he said. 'I'm not saying Arsene is a bad loser, but he hasn't had much practise of coming second best down the years and it clearly has a bad affect on him. I'm well used to losing, so maybe I handle it better.

'It's easy to be happy and hospitable when you come into press conferences week after week with another three points to feel happy about, but we deserved our point in this game and I'm delighted with it.'

Sol Campbell will doubtless sleep better than Arsene Wenger tonight and that fact will rile the Arsenal manager.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Emmanuel Adebayor
He may only have been on the field for a third of this game, but this imposing striker changed the course of a tussle that was swinging inexorably in Portsmouth's direction.

FOOD WATCH: My late arrival for the half-time snacks meant I had to make do with the vegetarian pie, but it was quite tasty.

REDKNAPP HUMOUR: The Pompey boss revealed the details of a bizarre transfer that stopped young loanee Manuel Fernandes playing in this game. 'If he plays three games in a row for us, we have to ay £12m to buy him, so I had to leave him out. He's a good player, but he 'ain't worth that much.'

CAMPBELL VERDICT: The big man held firm as Arsenal got up a head of steam in the second half and he will have enjoyed his battle against his former club.

WENGER VERDICT: There can be little doubt that the Arsenal manager is losing the cool composure he has carried with him for so long and that cannot be good news for his young team. He has always been a bad loser and that is no bad thing, but he cannot take liberties with officials so often and expect to get away with it.

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