Wenger offers words of comfort to under-fire Terry


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The Independent Online

With all that John Terry is alleged to have said, a harsh response from Arsène Wenger could have been expected yesterday. Wenger, one of the game's purists and moralists, takes his Arsenal team to Chelsea this afternoon and his pre-match press conference gave him a perfect platform to denounce the accused, to rail against racism, to ensure uncomfortable headlines for Chelsea's captain.

But Wenger balked. Of course he condemned racism as "stupid". Of course he said that, if guilty, Terry "should be punished". And of course, he refused to comment on specifics: "I didn't even see the game."

What was surprising, though, was Wenger's argument that things are often said "in a passionate situation inside the game" that may be unpleasant but that should not be read as insights into character. "If you have played football, you have said something to your friends sometimes that you are an idiot," he said, "but you do not really think that he's an idiot."

Wenger suggested that players should not be held to too high a standard of politeness: "I just feel sometimes what's happening on the pitch is not always politically correct ... Do you want every player to be followed by a camera? And analysed completely what he said after the game?"

Wenger does believe, though, that racism in English football has been minimised during his time here: "England has become much more international, a lot more tolerant, a lot more open-minded. It's a massive improvement."

The Frenchman believes that there needs to be a concerted fight against all forms of abuse in football, of which he himself has been a victim. "I worked for 15 years in England and I have been abused how many times? And that doesn't shock anybody."

Today's game will be a test of Arsenal's momentum. They have won three in a row but face a Chelsea team who have a rhythm that Arsenal are still reaching for. Since their defeat at Old Trafford last month, Chelsea have lost only one game. Some good news for Arsenal is that their great tormentor Didier Drogba, who has scored 14 goals in 13 appearances against them, is suspended. But they will face Fernando Torres, back from suspension. "This year he looks back to what he was before," said Wenger.