Penalties are given too often, says Wenger

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Arsene Wenger yesterday blamed referees for creating the recent controversy over penalty decisions by awarding too many - and called for a change in future.

Speaking in the wake of the furore over the dubious spot-kick won by his player, Robert Pires, against Portsmouth over the weekend, the Arsenal manager said: "It looks to me that in the whole league the referees have changed their approach towards penalties. Since I have been in England I have never seen so many penalties given in one weekend for situations that were not obvious."

Wenger cited the penalty awards in the match between Everton and Newcastle United and at Southampton. "I think always until now in England it was much harder to get a penalty than in Italy," the Frenchman said. "And it looks to me like the referees in England have changed their approach and they go much more for penalties which creates more controversial situations than ever before."

Wenger said the biggest decision referees have to make is the award of penalties. "I can understand it is difficult for the referees because it is too difficult to see what is going on. You can only see in slow motion if the guy hit or just stood there or not."

He said he had spoken to Pires about the incident in which he collided with the Portsmouth defender Dejan Stefanovic - and then appeared to dive - and again conceded that it was "certainly not an obvious penalty".

"In Robert's case you don't see the defender kick the player," he said. "He just stands there and maybe Robert, because he lifts the ball over, hits his leg. Does he do that on purpose or not? Only God may decide that. I don't know. But if he goes down because he hits his leg, did he do it on purpose? I don't know. He told me, no."

Wenger said he was appalled by incidents in which "a guy pushes the ball too far and it goes out and suddenly he dives likes somebody has shot him down". He added that "usually they [referees] did not give a penalty, which it looks like they do give now".

Steve Bennett will take charge of Arsenal's potentially volatile Premiership game with Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday, barely a month after his handling of the Community Shield game between the sides drew stringing criticism from Wenger.

Bennett was criticised by the Gunners manager for failing to fully punish the lunge by United midfielder Eric Djemba-Djemba which led to the retaliation from Sol Campbell that landed the defender with a violent conduct charge.

The incident led to a summit meeting between Campbell and senior Football Association executives as the player became convinced he was being unfairly treated and, with that investigation still outstanding, Bennett's appointment is sure to raise eyebrows in the Arsenal camp.

The Orpington official sent off the Gunners striker Francis Jeffers - who has since joined Everton on loan - during the game, which United won after a penalty shoot-out, although he was also widely condemned for failing to dismiss Arsenal's Ashley Cole when the full-back lashed out at United's Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.