Arsenal's Pires apologises for penalty howler

Robert Pires fired Arsenal to a 1-0 win over Manchester City on Saturday but was then forced to publicly apologise after he squandered the opportunity to seal victory with his second penalty of the game.

The France winger had already netted one second-half spot-kick, after Thierry Henry had been felled by David James, when Arsenal were awarded a second with 16 minutes remaining for a foul on Dennis Bergkamp.

Pires stepped up again, but instead of shooting he attempted to pass the ball to the onrushing Henry. He failed to make good contact with the ball, and when he tried to complete the pass with a second touch, referee Mike Riley correctly gave City a free-kick.

Pires said afterwards: “It was Thierry’s idea, and something we had practised on the training ground. But I shouldn’t have done it.

It was the wrong game in which to try it and I have apologised to the manager and the other players.

“I will not be attempting it again unless Thierry is the one passing to me!”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, celebrating his 56th birthday, was more sympathetic to his errant winger, and refused to point the blame at either Pires or Henry.

“Robert made a mess of it,” said Wenger.
“He was frightened that the keeper would get a touch if he hit the ball too far, so he under-hit it. Then he touched it again so the referee gave a free-kick.

“I was surprised when I saw it. Pires had scored the first one marvellously, so there was no reason for him to be shaky for the second. Thierry felt that he was too tired to take it, so that’s why he didn’t step up. As a manager you have to live with that.

“I was annoyed because that penalty would have settled the three points but I would have been much more annoyed had we not won the game. That’s the big positive for me.”

Arsenal were almost made to pay for their error when City striker Darius Vassell’s header hit the net with 10 minutes remaining only to be disallowed for offside.

The decision was marginal, and it ensured that Arsenal cut the gap to leaders Chelsea to 11 points.

Wenger added: “Yes, we almost paid for that when Vassell’s goal was ruled out, but that’s life. Hopefully, Robert is now vaccinated against that for the rest of his career.

“Football always throws up these surprises, that’s what makes the game so great. It was embarrassing and we were lucky not to be punished.

City manager Stuart Pearce, whose side dropped to fifth, was equally shocked at Pires’s decision to pass rather than shoot.

“I think that’s the first penalty Ive ever seen that hasn’t even moved towards the goal,” said the former England defender.

“Whenever you try something that isn’t the norm in football, you always get accused of arrogance. It’s actually a clever training ground ploy, although it doesn’t look so clever when it doesn’t come off.”

Pearce was more disappointed that Arsenal’s first penalty had been awarded.

Henry appeared to dive over James’s arms after collecting Cesc Fabregas’s through-ball, although the City manager refused to blame Henry directly.

He added: “It looked like he dived over Jamess arms and my boys were disappointed with it, but he’s a clever player. We’ll go with the referee on this one. He’s made an honest decision.”

Pearce was left to rue City’s inability to maintain their surprise charge towards a Champions League place, and accused his team of being too timid against the deposed Premiership champions.

“I don’t think Arsenal will have many afternoons when they’re restricted to so few chances, but maybe we were over-cautious. We stifled them but we could have had more points had we gone for it more.” - Sapa-AFP

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