Stephen Hunt has accused Arsenal's players of crowding the referee Stuart Attwell to force the dismissal of Nenad Milijas and the Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder believes that his team may have to adopt similar cynical tactics.
Attwell's decision to show a straight red card to Milijas in the 75th minute of the 1-1 draw at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday was contentious; Milijas tackled Mikel Arteta at full stretch and the Wolves manager, Mick McCarthy, also felt that he had played the ball. Wolves have appealed for the card, and the automatic three‑match ban, to be overturned.
The challenge prompted tempers to fray and Hunt suggested that Arsenal players had pressured Attwell into reaching for the red card. McCarthy also commented on how the "rarefied atmosphere" at the Emirates was a "difficult place to work in, whether you are a player, coach, manager, referee or an assistant".
Moments earlier, the Arsenal midfielder Alex Song had lunged in on Steven Fletcher and Hunt, leaving them on the floor, only to escape with a yellow card. Hunt felt that Song had left his boot in, with the studs up, and Attwell might have shown the red card to him.
Hunt also recalled how the Stoke City defender Jonathan Woodgate had avoided being sent off against Wolves earlier in the month when, having already been booked, he brought down Matt Jarvis to concede a penalty. Hunt said that Wolves' players might have been advised to get into the face of the referee, as he felt their Arsenal counterparts had done in the wake of Milijas's tackle.
"The Milijas red card was harsh, it was more [of a tackle] with one leg," Hunt said. "Players are clever and the reactions sometimes do not help the referee. Everyone does it now. We should maybe be better at it. We have been done in the past, like with Woodgate. We should have been surrounding the referee to get him sent off. Every team does it … we don't do it and we get punished. Maybe we should start doing it."
Attwell's appearance at the Emirates marked his return to Premier League duties after his controversial decision to send off the Bolton Wanderers centre-half Gary Cahill at Tottenham Hotspur on 3 December. That red card was overturned following an appeal from Bolton. Attwell's next assignment was the League Two fixture between Crewe Alexander and Crawley Town.
Hunt, though, spoke up in support of the official. "I like Stuart Attwell," he said. "He is always respectful on the pitch, he is always talking and he is learning the game as well. He is an up-and-coming referee and he referees the best that he can. I will take it on the chin if he makes a mistake. I can make a mistake and so can he. Maybe Song's tackle on me could have been a red so it is one of those things.
"A lot of people in this country criticise but what are we going to do? We need up-and-coming referees in the game. It is getting faster as well, so the fitter you are the better you should be. Everyone makes mistakes. Unfortunately, with so many cameras around, you cannot get away with much.
"It was a difficult game to referee, there was a lot going on. He made a mistake on the red card but it did not really change the game. Hopefully, it is going to be rescinded and on the day we have not been punished from it, so we move on."