Benitez calls for respect as Wenger opts for no-show

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The Independent Online

Rafael Benitez yesterday insisted that Liverpool did not have a "mental problem" when it came to playing against Manchester United, Chelsea and tomorrow's opponents Arsenal - but the sense of equilibrium for Arsène Wenger has certainly been upset at present.

For what was believed to be the first time in his decade in charge at Arsenal, Wenger refused to speak to the media ahead of a Premiership match. He cancelled his briefing at the club's training ground, following on from his refusal to speak in midweek, after the League Cup victory at Everton and last Sunday's encounter with West Ham.

It was then that he clashed with West Ham's Alan Pardew and the pair have subsequently been charged with improper conduct by the Football Association. Both men are likely to opt for personal hearings but Wenger, who, unlike Pardew has refused to apologise, has maintained an unusual silence. By doing so he has only heightened the attention on him.

Benitez, one of the most dignified and decent managers in football, was asked his opinion of the incident yesterday and admitted to disappointment. "It was a bad situation," he said, "as managers we must be respectful because there [are] a lot of people watching. Sometimes you cannot control your temper, but we must try to do it. As a manager you have a responsibility and you can be passionate. But afterwards you must be polite."

It is a quality he believes is also essential in players. "At Liverpool we try not to become involved with referees, we try to be very nice," Benitez said when asked about the week's other flashpoints involving the referee Graham Poll. He added: "But sometimes you see other teams and players who are not. If we need to talk to a ref, we do. But we never press them like other teams. The FA must act against these people."

Liverpool will arrive at the Emirates Stadium bolstered by a run of five successive victories. But the statistics against their big-club rivals are not so encouraging, and they have also managed just one point from five away games, and have only scored once, in the opening-day fixture at Sheffield United.

That run includes defeats at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge and Benitez is all too aware that in the 14 Premiership games against the other title contenders, they have won just two and lost 11. Liverpool will also have to contend with the absence of Momo Sissoko who has dislocated his shoulder and will be out of action for three months.

"We've been really close to taking points in these games," Benitez claimed. "At Arsenal away last year we lost in the last minute. Against Chelsea this time we were very unlucky. It's not a mental problem. If we both play at our same level, there's little difference between us. Consistency is always the most important thing. Now we're looking to take the next step and produce the same results against the big teams."

Indeed, both of those victories were against Arsenal and there is also encouragement for Liverpool in the problems Wenger's players have faced in adjusting to their new stadium. They have not lost there - but there have been too many frustrating draws.

The midfielder Cesc Fabregas has spoken of those frustrations and accused opponents of playing "anti-football". "Teams just defend, they try to waste time," the 19-year-old Spaniard said. Arsenal have, also, suffered a fresh injury setback with Tomas Rosicky expected to be out for 10 days after straining a hamstring.

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