Arsenal's Thierry Henry and Robert Pires take the worst penalty ever seen | October 23, 2005


THE silly season arrived at Highbury yesterday, as Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Manchester City descended into confusion and farce with perhaps the most bizarre penalty ever witnessed in the Premiership, writes Jim Munro, football editor.

Having given Arsenal the lead with a tidily executed spot-kick on 61 minutes, Robert Pires was nominated again when the Gunners were awarded a second penalty 17 minutes from time after foul on Dennis Bergkamp. What followed left even Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger — attempting to celebrate his 56th birthday— stunned with “disbelief”.

Pires approached the ball, but instead of shooting on goal attempted a short forward pass for onrushing teammate Thierry Henry. It was a move the two France internationals had practised in training two days previously, but Pires appeared to lose his nerve, barely made contact with the ball with his first touch, and made an illegal second touch as the now clued-up Manchester City defenders closed in.

An utterly baffled Henry was helpless as the ball was hoofed away, but referee Mike Riley halted play and correctly awarded an indirect free-kick to Manchester City.


What on earth were the Arsenal players doing? “I don’t know,” admitted Wenger. “I don’t think it was a lack of seriousness on the part of Robert Pires, I don’t think he was scared to miss it either. But we got away with it because we won 1-0 and I know all the analysis will focus on that moment.”

“But we have worked very hard and we’re jaded after our trip into Europe so for us this was a good result.”Asked whether he knew that the players had reheared the move, Wenger said: “I wasn’t aware of it. But things you try on the training ground sometimes stay on the training ground, you don’t try them in mathces. It was a wrong decision, it was a bad decision, but what can you say?”

Manchester City manager Stuart Pearce was full of praise for his defenders, led by Danny Mills, who had quickly cottoned on to what the Arsenal pair were planning. “I could give my defenders a pat on the back because it was good defending. Arsenal tried a legitimate ploy for me. If someobody does something tht’s innovartive and new then fair play to them.”

Far from being unique, the unusual penalty routine was first demonstrated successfully by Dutch team Ajax in December 1982. Awarded a penalty against Helmond Sport, penalty taker Johan Cruyff opted to pass the ball forward and to the left for Jesper Olsen, who was running into the area.Olsen played a return pass to Cruyff who, with the goalkeeper stranded, planted the ball coolly into the unguarded net. Pires and Henry would do well to get a video of that goal for future reference.

In the day’s other games, Manchester United threw away a seventh-minute lead over Tottenham to draw 1-1 at Old Trafford. Mikael Silvestre opened the scoring with United’s 999th Premiership goal but Jermaine Jenas equalised with a thundering free kick.Liverpool failed to win for the fifth time this season immediately after a European Cup game, when they went down 2-0 at Fulham. Wigan went third after winning 2-0 at Aston Villa.