Opponents try to injure my players, says Wenger

Arsenal manager points finger at Stoke as Walcott and Adebayor sidelined

Arsene Wenger's simmering resentment over the way his team is attacked by opposing players and then, according to him, labelled "cowards", finally spilled over yesterday.

The final straw was the treatment handed out by Stoke at the weekend, with Theo Walcott and Emmanuel Adebayor taken off injured during the 2-1 defeat at the Britannia Stadium, meaning they will not feature tonight in the Champions League against Fenerbahce. Walcott is now a doubt for Saturday's home game against Manchester United while Adebayor is certainly out against the league champions, the Gunners' biggest Premier League game of the season so far.

The Arsenal manager named names of the guilty players who he felt deliberately injured his side and sought to redress the balance by saying that rather than lacking spine, his players were the brave ones for trying to play football in the face of such intimidation. For years now, Wenger has seen his side accused of buckling under the pressure in such games but he chose yesterday to respond.

When asked if players were setting to injure his side deliberately, Wenger said: "Of course opponents are doing it deliberately. It happened at the weekend. Do you think [Rory] Delap tried to play the ball when he tackled Walcott? Or that [Ryan] Shawcross tried to play the ball when he tackled Adebayor off the pitch?

"Listen, Stoke won the battle, congratulations. The players who play football and try to play football by respecting the rules – they, for me, are the brave ones. The players who kick from behind are not the brave ones.

"When people say they didn't fancy it... what didn't they fancy? That you get the tackle from behind?

You need to be braver to play the ball knowing that somebody just tries to kick from behind."

Striker Adebayor will be out for up to three weeks with an ankle injury inflicted on the sideline, while Walcott was taken off on a stretcher with a shoulder injury and he is a doubt against United.

The Frenchman continued: "I see that in every game. You really think that I am in football for 30 years and I do not see the intention of the guy is to play the ball or not. If it is physical, it is fantastic and we lose the battle, well done. Bye bye. Ask any player who has played here, if he has not been targeted without any intention of playing the ball, just to kick him out of the game.

"I read that my team were not brave against Stoke. I can say that they are brave and for me, you need to have more courage to play football when you know that someone is tackling you from behind without any intention to play the ball.

"I can show some tackles where I can prove what I say. Do you want me to show you the X-rays? The one who is tackling is not the brave one. For me the brave one is the player who is trying to play football."

As evidence of the long-term pattern of treatment meted out to his side, Wenger then cited the tackle last season when Birmingham City's Martin Taylor broke the striker Eduardo's leg and further back when Sunderland's Dan Smith injured Abou Diaby.

He also insisted that referees play a greater part in helping to protect his players. "I suggest that the referee has the rule book and has to decide whether this is a correct play for the ball or not. On top of that, I am 12 years here I know how it works. As soon as we get the right protection we can play against all kind of teams."

A Football Association spokesman said last night: "We are looking into the comments made by Arsène Wenger."

Arsenal (probable, 4-4-2): Almunia; Sagna, Touré, Silvestre, Clichy; Denilson, Fabregas, Diaby, Nasri; Bendtner, Van Persie.

Fenerbahce (probable, 4-4-2): Volkan; Gokhan, Lugano, Roberto Carlos; Kazim, Selcuk, Deivid, Ugur, Semih, Guiza

Referee: R Rosetti (Italy)

Group G

Results: Dynamo Kiev 1 Arsenal 1; Porto 3 Fenerbahce 1; Arsenal 4 Porto 0; Fenerbahce 0 Dynamo Kiev 0; Fenerbahce 2 Arsenal 5; Porto 0 Dynamo Kiev 1.

Arsenal's remaining group fixtures: Today: Fenerbahce (h); 25 Nov: Dynamo Kiev (h); 10 Dec: Porto (a).

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