Arsene Wenger defends Barcelona against 'cheating' accusations

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The Independent Online

Arsene Wenger believes the "exceptional" Lionel Messi has all the qualities to be hailed best in the world - but refuses to believe Barcelona cheat their way to success.

Barcelona are set to hold a board meeting later today as the Spanish club consider action against Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho following an ill-tempered Champions League semi-final first leg at the Bernabeu.

Former Chelsea and Inter Milan manager Mourinho last night implied the Catalan giants receive favourable treatment from referees and claimed the club had yet to win a "clean" European title under Pep Guardiola.

The outburst came shortly after Guardiola's side won 2-0 after a late brace from Messi followed the dismissal of Real midfielder Pepe for a challenge on Dani Alves.

Wenger feels the comments were ill-advised.

"It's difficult for me to comment on that because we were involved in a situation like that," said the Arsenal manager, handed a one-match ban by UEFA for hitting out at Swiss referee Massimo Busacca after striker Robin van Persie had been sent off in the Nou Camp for kicking the ball away.

"I refuse to believe that because the day I believe that, it is impossible to manage.

"This season, they [Barcelona] certainly had some advantages. I feel that they were accidental."

Wenger added: "When a manager comes out of a big game like that, and you have a disappointment, you have to accept that you can sometimes that you go a bit too far, but I refuse to believe that there is, let's say, a script behind the stage and that Barcelona is advantaged.

"I feel that they over-react, certainly, but they play certainly the best football at the moment in Europe and you have to give them credit for that."

Messi is a big part of the reason for that.

Wenger guided Arsenal to a famous 2-1 victory over Barcelona at Emirates Stadium on February 16, before eventually losing the last-16 tie in the Nou Camp where Messi was again inspirational.

The Gunners boss cannot help be impressed by the Argentina forward, who scored all four as Arsenal were thrashed in Spain in last season's quarter-finals.

"Messi has qualities that are mental: humility, desire to play, happiness to help the team, always desire, you never see any bad reaction despite all the kicks he gets," said Wenger.

"When you look at the numbers, you have to kneel down and say they are fantastic.

"When a guy scores 52 goals in modern football and 25 assists, when you see how difficult it is to score a goal, you just have to say it is absolutely exceptional what this player is delivering."

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