Wenger attacks foreign quotas as rule of 'mediocre'

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The Independent Online

Arsène Wenger yesterday demolished the case for limiting the number of foreign players operating in the Premiership. He also said that Thierry Henry, who is in the squad for the FA Cup fifth-round tie against Blackburn Rovers today, is unlikely to play in the Carling Cup final against Chelsea a week tomorrow.

Wenger, who accompanied his players on a visit to Buckingham Palace on Thursday, was in suitably imperious form as he addressed the topic that is exercising so many minds in the world of football at the moment.

"There are two different purposes," the Arsenal manager said. "One is to give a game that is as good as possible. Then you just say, in the whole world, take the best and then play.

"But if you say 'the Premier League is here to make our national team better', then it's different. Then you play all the English players. Simple as that. And maybe you have a better national team, maybe not, I'm not at all sure.

"What Fifa wants to do is protect, to protect its own competition. They just want to protect mediocrity. But people say football is sport first, and if it's sport first, the best play. For me, I'm just loving football. I don't look at passports."

Wenger, who said that he had turned down the job of managing the France team, added that reducing the number of talented players in the Premiership would benefit the richer clubs, who would monopolise those left over. A suggestion that he might yet manage England was greeted with a snort of amusement. "I think it's better you have an English guy," he said. "You savage them even quicker."

The Arsenal manager insisted that he would stick to his policy of considering only those players who have played at least one Carling Cup match so far this season for places in the final. Given that Henry's last involvement in the competition was in last year's semi-final, against Wigan, there appears no chance of him turning out against Chelsea. Injuries permitting, of course.

"I say today he will not play," Wenger said, "although maybe he will play because we have three injuries. But if everyone is available, he will not play."

Wenger's policy will also mean no place in the final for William Gallas, who is back in the first-team squad after missing 22 games with a thigh problem. The former Chelsea defender is likely to be on the bench for the match against Blackburn today.

"The Carling Cup is a competition that is a bit special to me, so I will keep it special to the end," Wenger said.

Six players will be rested today - Gilberto Silva, Julio Baptista, Jens Lehmann, Alexander Hleb, Abou Diaby and Johan Djourou. Henry and Gallas are joined in the squad by Cesc Fabregas and Denilson. Manuel Almunia will again deputise for Lehmann in goal.

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