Football: Wenger defends under-fire referees

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The Independent Online
ARSeNE WENGER has responded to the outspoken attack by the Manchester United chairman, Martin Edwards, on the referee David Elleray by declaring that the game cannot survive if the honesty of officials is brought into question.

Edwards, who could be charged with bringing the game into disrepute, was reported to have declared: "If Arsenal or Chelsea win the championship, I trust they will strike a commemorative medal for Mr Elleray because he would have done it for them."

Wenger insisted: "Football is only possible if you believe that everybody gives his best and you have confidence in people who are responsible for the game. Of course I know things are very important at the moment, but you have to believe that referees and opponents give their best. Once you start to be suspicious about referees, it is endless. You have to keep confidence in the referees' honesty."

The irony is that Elleray will be taking charge of Arsenal's final game of the season against Aston Villa at Highbury and Wenger joked: "He will be welcome!"

However, to keep their realistic chances of defending the title alive, the Gunners, who trail United on goals scored with two games left, need to beat Leeds tonight.

"If the championship stopped today, United would win it," Wenger said. "We have to be really realistic and just try to win our next game at least. If we can manage that, then things could change very quickly."

Despite fears over the fitness of Ray Parlour, Marc Overmars and Dennis Bergkamp, all three are expected to start at Elland Road, although Bergkamp will first require a test on a slight calf problem.

One potentially unsettling factor has been the constant stream of reports linking striker Nicolas Anelka with a move away from Highbury. However, after speaking to Anelka about the stories appearing at such a crucial stage of the season, Wenger has restated his belief that the talented youngster will still be at the club next year.

Ian Harte is Leeds' only injury worry after twisting a knee during training on Saturday. Danny Granville is likely to deputise if the Irish international does not recover in time.

THE TITLE CHASE

P W D L F A Pts

Man Utd 36 21 12 3 78 36 75

Arsenal 36 21 12 3 58 16 75

REMAINING FIXTURES

Manchester United: Tomorrow: Blackburn Rovers (a); Sunday: Tottenham Hotspur (h).

Arsenal: Tonight: Leeds United (a); Sunday: Aston Villa (h).

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