Arsenal can 'deal with the bullies'

Wenger to call on Campbell for his in-form side's expected physical battle with Stoke
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The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger metaphorically rolled up his sleeves yesterday and insisted his Arsenal side are capable of handling themselves in any physical confrontation on the pitch, as he prepared to call up Sol Campbell for what is likely to be another trial of strength at Stoke tomorrow.

The Arsenal manager also said he had been shocked by the controversy surrounding William Gallas's challenge on Bolton's Mark Davies in Arsenal's 4-2 midweek victory over Bolton, and went on to claim his side are more sinned against than sinning.

Wenger accused some of Arsenal's opponents of not adhering to the spirit of the game. "Some people say before the games, 'We know how to play Arsenal, we have to kick them' and nobody in the whole country is absolutely upset by that," Wenger said. "I am always absolutely amazed that people get away with that. When we get kicked and lose the game, the question I get from the press is, 'Oh, you did not fancy that.' Nobody is upset or shocked by it. They find when we are kicked, it is absolutely all right."

Wenger went on: "I think we can deal with it. It's not pleasant, we have to deal with the physical challenges. We have shown some muscle this year. We have to go into the game with fair intentions, knowing as well that if it gets more physical we can deal with it."

Wenger's staunch defence of his team comes after Gallas was vilified for the tackle on Wednesday that left Davies with ankle ligament damage. The Bolton manager, Owen Coyle, labelled it "akin to assault" after the game but has toned down his remarks. Gallas will not face any retrospective disciplinary action from the Football Association as referee Alan Wiley saw the challenge as two players coming together for a 50/50 ball.

Wenger, who issued an apology for the incident on the night, believes the subsequent fuss masks the reality that his team play in the right spirit. His words were backed up as his team currently top the Fair Play League, while they also top the Premier League.

The Arsenal manager went on to urge for greater protection for his players. "I believe the most important thing is the players who play football, such as [Cesc] Fabregas are protected. You don't pay to watch players kick him, you pay to watch players like him play football."

For the trip to Stoke, Wenger is set to give Campbell his first game since re-signing for the club. Campbell, 35, has not played a competitive match since he left League Two side Notts County in September but he claimed yesterday he is in better shape now than when he quit Arsenal in 2006.

Campbell, who has signed a short-term contract until the end of the season, said: "Personally I feel in better shape now physically than when I left Arsenal, because I am fresher. I played so many years, but the longest break I have ever had was probably two months. This time I have been able to train for six months, without the stress of building up for games and all the travelling.

"All that takes it toll and I have not had that, so I am really fresh. I am loving it. The batteries have been recharged and the stamina you need to go through a whole season, that is there. I am there if there are any injuries, and tiredness or if the boss wants to make a change for a cup game or whatever. Basically I am there to help out in any capacity.

"I want to influence things, whether it is from the bench or wherever. I want to help the team and give everything I can when I am called upon."