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Football: Vieira `nicest guy in world' - Wenger

ARSeNE WENGER , the Arsenal manager, has criticised Chris Sutton for his two-footed lunge on the Gunners' midfielder Patrick Vieira - a challenge that earned the Blackburn striker a red card at Ewood Park on Sunday.

Sutton, sent off in the last minute of Arsenal's 2-1 Premiership victory, has claimed he was provoked into retaliation because the Frenchman broke his nose with an elbow earlier in the game.

Wenger said: "I could understand him being upset his nose was broken but with the kind of game Chris Sutton plays he must expect this at some stage. But I don't think Patrick did it on purpose. If anything it was his head which caused the injury. That is what it looks like on the video which shows them jumping for the ball at the far post area."

Sutton claims Vieira "smiled at me" after the incident and is convinced the Frenchman intended to injure him. Wenger, however, defended his player, claiming that he was a target for provocation. "Patrick was kicked throughout the game and we know some players try to make him lose his temper," he said.

"Yet even when it is him who is being attacked I am asked to defend his actions. He is an aggressive player but not a dirty one and I just hope that all this doesn't affect his game.

"The way he challenges for the ball never worries me. I want him to keep doing it because if he doesn't he is not the same player. The rules of the game are there to protect every player but often I feel he does not get enough protection."

Wenger, in fact, believes a challenge by Blackburn's Tim Sherwood on Vieira in Sunday's game was far worse than the one for which Sutton was sent off. Vieira was also booked at Ewood Park and Wenger said: "It may seem to some people that he is some kind of monster with all the things that are said about him. But he is really the nicest guy in the world and if we made him available tomorrow I know every manager in the Premier League would want to sign him."

Vieira, 22, has a poor disciplinary record, however. He was booked 24 times in his first two seasons at Arsenal and sent off twice but Sutton also has a history of bookings, sendings off and suspensions.

Vieira is suspended for Arsenal's Worthington Cup third-round tie at Derby County tonight, a legacy from his dismissal for two yellow cards in the semi-final of the competition - then called the Coca-Cola Cup - against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last season.

Yet Vieira would not have played at Pride Park in any case as Wenger will repeat his policy of fielding virtually a reserve team in the early rounds of the competition. In fact, the new pounds 3m Swedish signing, Fredrik Ljungberg, will be the only starter from the team which began the game at Blackburn.

David Grondin, the captain of the French Under-18 side, makes his senior Arsenal debut while the Austrian goalkeeper Alex Manninger steps in for David Seaman. None of Arsenal's first-choice back-four will be on duty, with the Argentinian Nelson Vivas and England Under-21 centre-half Matthew Upson both being given rare opportunities.

The Independent Manchester United Supporters' Association said yesterday it was confident BSkyB's attempt to buy the club would fail. BSkyB needs the support of shareholders controlling more than 50 per cent of the company, but announced the figure reached so far stood at under 45 per cent, although that is higher than some City observers expected at this stage since the Monopolies and Mergers Commission has yet to give its view of the proposed deal.

BSkyB announced backing for its pounds 623m bid for United from shareholders controlling some 44.6 per cent of the company, including the United board, which has agreed to sell its 16 per cent holding. BSkyB's offer to shareholders has now been extended until 3 November, as is standard practice.

IMUSA representatives and around 150 football supporters from a variety of clubs lobbied Parliament yesterday to seek support from politicians opposed to the move. They hope Peter Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, will refer the deal to the Monopolies Commission on Monday when he has considered a report complied by the Office of Fair Trading. Few analysts believe there are compelling competition grounds for BSkyB's takeover to be blocked, however.