Arsène Wenger voiced dark conspiracy theories in a bitter tirade at the referee Lee Probert after watching his 10-man Arsenal side stunned at the very last by Fulham to miss the chance of moving back into the Premier League's top four. The manager could not contain his fury at Probert's decision to dismiss Johan Djourou in the 78th minute and he accused Fulham's players of attempting to get the stand-in right-back his second yellow card.
Wenger argued that the Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker had been fouled by Clint Dempsey in the build-up to Djourou's sending-off, which came after he leaned in on the match-winner Bobby Zamora – TV replays failed to support the view – and he even contested Djourou's first card, given in the 63rd minute, for a tackle through the back of Moussa Dembélé.
He went on to highlight his counterpart Martin Jol's decision to introduce the substitute Kerim Frei as evidence that Fulham were targeting Djourou and he also raged at the non-award of a first-half penalty when Philippe Senderos lunged at Gervinho. There had been contact, even if Gervinho's fall felt a little theatrical. Retreating into the mentality of the siege, Wenger argued that it was far from the first time his team had been denied a penalty.
"The referee influenced the game completely the wrong way in my opinion," Wenger said. "We cannot influence that. We had a good first half … in the second half we were more tired and in the last 10 minutes we lost the game because we were down to 10 men. The first yellow card was not a yellow card; the second yellow card was a foul for us. It was also 100% a penalty for us in the first half.
"When Djourou got the first yellow, every time they went down to get him the second yellow. He did nothing at all. I saw it coming because when Frei came on the game was all [about] looking for the second yellow card for Djourou. The referee was naive enough to give it. We played many games recently and we knew that if we dropped our level we would be in trouble. But we would not have been in trouble if we had stayed with 11 on the pitch."
At Craven Cottage Jol revelled in his first triumph over Wenger at the ninth attempt – the pair have plenty of previous from Jol's time at Tottenham Hotspur – and he did little to debunk his rival's fears about the 69th‑minute introduction of Frei. "Maybe he could accuse me of trying to do something but I don't think the players can do that," Jol said. "The only thing I did was put Frei on the flank and he is an exciting player. He went one-versus-one all the time and that was probably the problem for Djourou. He probably could have had a second booking before he got it, to be fair."
Wenger accepted that his team had the chances to kill the game and he lamented the "stupid" late goals that they conceded – Zamora's winner came in the second minute of added time. But he bubbled with frustration at perceived injustices and he did nothing to back away from his claim that Jol and Fulham had attempted to force Djourou's dismissal.
"We do not need to make stories for the newspapers," Wenger said. "I tell you about the game that I have seen. I don't care about the rest. I just felt that every time … Djourou was on the fringe to get a second yellow.
"There was too much at stake in the game … we needed absolutely everything to go for us and to be right. We are guilty because we still gave two goals away in a stupid way and we didn't take our chances but, as well, you must say that nothing went for us from the referee, nothing at all. We cannot change that. We have to live with it, unfortunately."
Wenger marched towards Probert at full-time before seeming to think better about a confrontation and diverting towards the dressing room. "You know what you get [in those situations]," he said, before he addressed the subject of the non-penalty awards. "We had a penalty in our last game [against QPR], a clear handball; we had a penalty at Man City; we had a penalty at Villa Park [none of which were given]. You should not ask me why. I don't know."