Arsenal's Andre Santos was already struggling to justify his defensive credentials this season. Now he has to justify accepting Robin van Persie's Manchester United shirt as the players left the field for halftime on Saturday.
Santos and Van Persie were teammates last season and are clearly friends. That might explain Santos collecting Van Persie's No. 20 shirt after the final whistle, but to do so in the throes of a Premier League match—and before an audience of millions—does not reflect well on the Brazilian's attention to the task at hand.
In the eyes of many Arsenal fans, it cast Santos as a giddy fan who was more focused on taking a souvenir away from Old Trafford than the right result for his team.
Understand Arsenal fans anger about Santos getting RVP's shirt at half-time. Summed up the display. What next? Asking for an autograph?
— Phil McNulty (@philmcnulty) November 4, 2012
The backlash against Santos was compounded by his team's woeful performance against United. Arsenal were completly outplayed and ultimately flattered by the 2-1 scoreline.
Santos himself was given a torrid time by Antonio Valencia, who wreaked havoc down United's right. Many expected Santos to be substituted at halftime—perhaps he did too—but he emerged for the second half and played out the full 90 minutes.
Antonio Valencia v Andre Santos....if this were a boxing bout, the referee would have stepped in by now #mismatch
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) November 3, 2012
It wasn't the first time Arsenal have looked vulnerable with Santos in the left-back position this season. And there has plenty of speculation he might be set for a January move away from the club—with a possible return to Turkey mooted.
The talk may well get louder after what happened at Old Trafford. Arsenal fans were angered by their team's weak offering and a mutinous theme came through in their chants from the away end.
By accepting Van Persie's shirt, Santos made himself a scapegoat.
But was he really wrong to do so? The Guardian's Secret Footballer make the point that shirt-swapping at halftime is commonplace, and we've heard instances before of players pre-arranging their exchange. Santos just happened to do his in the gaze of the television cameras.
#MOTD3rdEye Shearer's apparent horror at Santos swapping shirts with RvP at HT, even though he knows it happens in every game (off camera)
— Secret Footballer (@TSFGuardian) November 4, 2012
The fact is was Van Persie only makes things worse for Arsenal fans—who have been forced to watch on their former hero has gone about leading United's title charge this season, while the team he left behind are struggling.
Van Persie had already scored against his former club when Santos took his shirt as the pair headed to the tunnel.
We await Santos' explanation, but whatever it is won't take away from Arsenal's dismal showing at Old Trafford. And he won't take away the embarrassment their fans felt watching Santos accept RvP's shirt after his team had put in such an inferior first-half performance.
I'll leave the last word to Arsenal fan Sam Strange, but suffice to say Santos has got some work to do to rebuild his reputation with the Gunners faithful.
I'm pleased MOTD (Match of the Day) are singling out the dismal performance of Andre Santos today. And his HT antics which were just a disgrace. #AFC— Sam Strange (@samstrange19) November 3, 2012