FRANK Lampard has leapt to the defence of his fellow Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien and claimed opponents are trying to fool referees into taking harsh action against the Ghana international.
Essien has been in the spotlight this season after dangerous tackles on Bolton's Tal Ben Haim and Liverpool's Dietmar Hamann for which he escaped red cards, and Lampard believes such exposure has led to rival teams trying to build up referees' prejudices.
UEFA took punitive action against Essien after reviewing video evidence of the tackle on Hamann in the Champions League match at Stamford Bridge. Arsenal players surrounded referee Rob Styles on Sunday after Essien's forearm made contact with Lauren, who went down clutching his face.
Lampard said he has studied video footage of the incident several times and that Arsenal had over-reacted.
He said: "If you take Sunday as an example I have watched it several times and firstly Michael Essien was not looking in the direction of the player, and secondly he did not make contact with the player's face which was the impression you got afterwards.
"And then it's unfortunate that the players then surrounded him attempting to make a bigger deal of it than what it was.
"I thinking people are making a big deal of it, and it keeps getting highlighted on TV, shown again and again.
"He has been banned in Europe, fair enough and he has taken that ban, but on Sunday I think he was treated a bit badly.
"They should appreciate he's a good player and knowing him as a person now he's definitely not got a malicious character. He's a very good lad, he's always got a smile on his face, he's very friendly, he has fitted in very well with the lads and we enjoy having him around on and off the pitch."
Chelsea's victory over Arsenal opened a nine-point gap at the top of the Premiership, but Lampard maintains the intense Christmas period will be the most crucial part of the season.
He said: "It's not over and we understand there is a long way to go.
If we lose a couple of games over Christmas and Manchester United win, the gap is hardly anything so it's probably the most important part of the season.
"If we can get through Christmas, the next four games, with four victories we will be in an even stronger position than we are in now.
"If we slip up now then everything is open again, so it's more crucial for us."