Cesc Fábregas will not face sanctions from the Football Association despite claims that he had questioned the referee Lee Mason’s integrity as the players left the pitch at half-time during Arsenal’s fractious game with Everton on Tuesday.
The home players were incensed over the visitors’ 24th-minute goal, which they claimed was offside. Sources in and around the tunnel at the Emirates Stadium suggested Fábregas had shouted “How much have you been paid?” as he made his way to the dressing room. It is unclear whether he was supposed to have been directing the comments at Mason, the fourth official Kevin Wright, or either assistant referee.
Had the officials heard such a comment directed at them, even in the tunnel, Mason would have felt compelled to send the player off. The FA confirmed yesterday the referee had made no special mention of the incident in his report, and the matter is now effectively resolved.
The Spain midfielder issued a statement last night that fell short of an apology, but did include an admission that things had been said “in the heat of the moment”. “Yes, I was upset at half-time,” he said. “So too were about 60,000 Arsenal supporters in the stadium. We were 1-0 down against a very good Everton side to a goal which we felt was offside. Of course I am going to be upset. Players from both sides were saying things as we came off the pitch, and this always happens in football.
“I’m passionate about this club and, like all the players, want to win every single match, so many things are said in the heat of the moment. Clearly the officials feel that nothing serious happened, as I understand the referee has not included anything in his match report. All I can say is that I have respect for all match officials. Their job is a very difficult one and their decisions are final.”
The Everton manager, David Moyes, had claimed to have heard Fábregas say something “disgusting” in the tunnel which would have warranted his dismissal. “Cesc Fábregas should have been sent off for his comments about the officials as he was coming up the tunnel,” Moyes said on Tuesday. “It was disgusting. I won’t be repeating them, but maybe someone will for you. They were deserving of a sending-off, 100%. If he’d said them on the pitch he would have been off like ‘that’. Why should it be any different in the tunnel?”
Arsenal denied that Fábregas had confronted the referee at half-time, with Arsène Wenger insistent that he himself had spoken “politely” to Mason to query the award of Louis Saha’s goal. “I was next to Cesc Fábregas at half-time,” Wenger said. “I don’t see why you can be furious with him. I was talking to the referee. I asked him in a polite way. He didn’t speak to the referee at half-time. I spoke to the referee at half-time.”
Fábregas pointed to his team’s second-half revival – Arsenal won courtesy of goals from Andrey Arshavin and Laurent Koscielny – as confirmation that their title challenge remains credible. “It is a very inspiring comeback and maybe we needed something like that to lift us and see that even with injuries and suspensions, we can still have a really strong squad,” Fábregas said. “Now we have three days to recover for what will be a big game on Saturday [at Newcastle].”
Arsenal trail Manchester United by five points and are still to play the leaders at the Emirates this season. “It looks like we are the last challengers,” Koscielny said. “We have got more points than Manchester City, Chelsea and the others. They can still come back strongly as well, but I feel we can challenge United. We need to focus on our game, keep winning, and maybe they will lose games at some point.
“It’s not going to be easy. But we have big faith in ourselves and in the squad and we do believe that we can do it, so bring it on. We’ll keep fighting. It’s going to be a big battle between us and Manchester United and hopefully they will drop points and not us.”