Ferguson must 'calm down', says Wenger

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The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger said yesterday that Sir Alex Ferguson needed to "calm down" following his renewed claims that Arsenal were treated leniently after last season's fracas at Old Trafford.

Arsene Wenger said yesterday that Sir Alex Ferguson needed to "calm down" following his renewed claims that Arsenal were treated leniently after last season's fracas at Old Trafford.

The Arsenal manager also accused Ferguson of acting irresponsibly in trying to stoke the tensions before Sunday's meeting with Manchester United. "I hope that he will calm down but before the game, on our side, I can guarantee that it will not influence us," Wenger said.

He claimed that Ferguson's weekend comments - that he had not seen anything worse in sport than the way Arsenal players reacted to Ruud Van Nistelrooy's missed penalty - were made after a game and could therefore be discounted because of the heat of the moment.

However, he was reminded that Ferguson had spoken at a pre-match press conference. "That is even more surprising," Wenger said. "But it does not affect me and we will just focus on the way we play football." He went on: "I think he has a good sense of humour, you cannot deny that. Maybe it would have been better had they put us against a wall and shot us.

"Seriously, you have to consider that he and I are not in the best positions to judge. That whole story has been judged by the FA and you have to accept that. I think as well [that] as managers we have a responsibility to prepare these games as well as it is supposed to be. That means only the football and only making it a football game, and not a game full of resentment or unneeded aggression."

Four Arsenal players received bans following the incident. Two have since left the club, another, Patrick Vieira, is injured, and is also rated "80 per cent" doubtful for the United match, while only the fourth, Lauren, will play against Panathinaikos today in the Champions' League Group E game. Arsenal have been at pains to try to concentrate solely on tonight's match which, following the draw against Rosenborg, is one that they desperately need to secure at least another point from. It was not only United they have had heated encounters with, however. These two sides met here three years ago and Panathinaikos won 1-0. Thierry Henry, famously, lost his cool, raging at anyone and everyone and accusing the Greek players of diving. In the absence of Vieira, and the non-flying Dennis Bergkamp, Wenger appointed the striker captain. "He is calmer because he has achieved more," he said when asked to compare the Henry of Athens 2001 with today's Henry. "It was a frustrating night because everything went against us. Maybe we did not control our nerves enough." Despite the stakes Wenger has no doubts about throwing in the 17-year-old Cesc Fabregas against the Greek double-winners, who secured their first championship in eight years last season. However "the Greens" are in some disarray and sacked their coach, Itzhak Shum, two weeks ago. Ostensibly it was because of the Champions' League defeat against PSV Eindhoven but, in reality, it was to do with the Israeli's refusal to pick the players signed by the technical director, Velimir Zajec. Nevertheless his successor, the Czech coach Zdanek Scasny, has retained the same defensive tactics.

Wenger admitted that despite Arsenal's free-scoring, Premiership exploits "in the Champions' League we have it all to show". His team is better now, he said, which is undoubtedly true. But so, too, is Wenger's claim that he will always consider he has "underachieved" if he does not win the European Cup. Such is the standards he has set.

Panathinaikos (probable; 5-4-1): Chalkias; Vintra, Morris, Goumas, Kirgiakos, Konstantinidis; Gonzalez, Basinas, Mitu, Skacel; Konstantinou.

Arsenal (probable; 4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Campbell, Touré, Cole; Ljungberg, Fabregas, Edu, Pires; Reyes, Henry.

Referee: V Ivanov (Russia).