THE BOOING OF EBOUE - Can it ever be right?

Arsenal correspondent JEM MAIDMENT finds that some illustrious names in Arsenal's history have suffered the same fate... Arsenal s usual comatose crowd stirred from its slumber with devastating effect on Saturday. The barracking of a below-par Emmanuel Eboue certainly left a bad taste, and left Arsenal fans reputation for fairness – and apathy – shattered. Eboue, for his p

Arsenal's usual comatose crowd stirred from its slumber with devastating effect on Saturday.

The barracking of a below-par Emmanuel Eboue certainly left a bad taste, and left Arsenal fans' reputation for fairness - and apathy - shattered.

Eboue, for his part, was reportedly inconsolable afterwards, sobbing away in the confines of the spacious home dressing room with his team-mates standing around helpless.

The debate it opened up among Arsenal followers - and the division it has created - over the past week has been extraordinary.

"I suppose if the fans pay a lot of money for their ticket they'll feel they're entitled to boo if they want to," ex-Gunner Paul Merson told Ham&High Sport.

"But it didn't look good and I feel for the boy [Eboue]. His confidence was shot and all the booing did was give the away team a boost.

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"There wasn't long to go, maybe Arsene Wenger should have kept him on the pitch for the final few seconds.

"But whatever happens now, I just hope the fans get behind the lad - he's an Arsenal player and for all his shortcomings, he's a trier."

Another former Arsenal player Lee Dixon - himself a target for the Arsenal boo-boys for a short period during the early 1990s - concurs, but believes Wenger was right to substitute him.

"Arsene has done him a favour because he was getting so much stick. The fans have got the ghost for him - you feel for the lad because nobody deserves that," he said this week.

Wenger, for his part, seemed to accept it is the fan's right to demand change: "You do not want them to do it but, if you say they have the right [to boo], legally, of course they have."

Some complained afterwards it was the Johnny-Come-Latelys - those enticed to football after the Premier League's formation - who were ultimately to blame for the merciless barracking. Those, according to furious Arsenal blogger, Paul Padfield, on Online Gooner, whose "first Arsenal midfield was Pires-Vieira-Gilberto-Ljungberg".

That is a fanciful notion but way off the mark Back in November 1987, in the days when live televised football was those rarest of treats before Sky transformed the national game, Niall Quinn also suffered the indignity of being a substituted substitute, after sections of a wet and fed-up Highbury crowd voiced its displeasure at the Irishman's ineffectiveness.

The ironic cheers which greeted the No 12 being held aloft, and his replacement, defender Nigel Winterburn's introduction, added to Quinn's humiliation.

It went down in Highbury infamy for those who were there to witness it. Quinn's Arsenal career never recovered and he barely played in the next two and a half years before he was sold to Manchester City.

Then, like now, Quinn was every bit as poor as Eboue.

And then, like now, it left many asking "is it right to boo your own player?".

Arsene Wenger admitted it was hard to pull the Ivorian off - but stopped short of criticising fans who pay up to £90 a ticket to watch their side.

"It was a difficult decision but he had completely lost his confidence," said Wenger.

"He couldn't keep the ball any more and had become a danger. It was very sad but the important thing was that we won the game.

"I wanted to keep him on but you have to think about the team in these situations.

"He's a sensitive boy who wants to do well and he cares about the club. I believe the same fans will applaud him when he does well."

If he appears at Middlesbrough on Saturday lunchtime, expect a solid show of support for the Ivorian from the 3,000 fans in the Riverside's visitors' section.

Away from the corporate blandness of Emirates, Arsenal's most vocal, biased and supportive followers come into their own.

Ben Dimech, of the increasingly influential REDAction supporters' group, which has given itself the nigh-on impossible task of upping the volume at Emirates, told Ham&High Sport: "The booing of your own players never has been and never will be acceptable.

"The impact it has is so damaging not only to the target of the abuse but to their team-mates.

"How can any of our players sincerely tell their fellow professionals that Arsenal is a great place to be?"

But season ticket holder Russell Keene told us: "I actually find it all quite funny. It was pantomime, you charge West End theatre prices you get a theatre reaction.

"People blame the new kind of fan with money whose been attracted to the Premier League but I am not entirely sure it's solely their fault.

"I've been going for 20 years and remember people like Perry Groves, Martin Hayes and Gus Caesar getting booed - before my time Jon Sammels was booed by his own fans.

"The difference on Saturday was simply that there was more of them doing so.

"Should fans boo their own players? I don't think so, but when you pay the silly money to get in these days some people might feel they are entitled to do so - it was causing arguments all around the stadium."

Eboue is a popular figure at the club's London Colney training ground and it clearly upset many of his colleagues as he stormed down the tunnel, eyes fixed to the floor.

A series of poor decisions - culminating in him tackling his own player, Kolo Toure - left the Arsenal manager, who played Eboue out of position in left midfield, with no choice.

But he is adamant the player, whose confidence is fragile, can recover.

Wenger added: "I can understand him going straight down the tunnel because the crowd were very hard on him. When you're a fan, you're behind the players and that's what you want them to do.

"Unfortunately, it was a relief for the player to come off. You want to make the right decision for the team."

"I will sit down and talk to him [Eboue]. I think he will come back and show how good a player he is."