Graham Poll last night hit back at Arsène Wenger over the Arsenal manager's claim that it was "embarrassing" that the former referee had shown favouritism to John Terry by claiming that it was a bigger decision for referees to send off the England captain than any other player. On the day that Cesc Fabregas was ruled out of action for four months, Poll said that Wenger had deliberately taken his words out of context.
The dispute was sparked by Poll's comments on Setanta Sports on Monday night that referee Phil Dowd's dismissal of Terry in Chelsea's game against Everton would have greater repercussions because of Terry's status as England captain. Wenger said: "It's embarrassing when you listen to the comment of Graham Poll and he says you have to consider that you are sending off the captain of the England national team. What has that got to do with the rule book?
"When you listen to that, it's frankly quite embarrassing for the referees. It is a big concern when the former No 1 national referee talks like that. I don't think they are taking reputations into account, but when I hear statements like that you change your mind. I have no problems with Poll." Last night Poll said that Wenger knew exactly what he had meant when the former referee had discussed the "ramifications" of sending off high-profile players. Poll said: "He has taken my words out of context. If you send off John Terry or Cristiano Ronaldo or Arsenal, when they had big players, you are aware of the consequences. You know that it is a high-profile decision you are making.
"He [Wenger] is aware of that, he knows that, he understands that. I'm not saying that you chicken out of the decision or that John Terry gets an extra chance because he is England captain, but you know that when you do send him off it is not a standard dismissal. For example, the last time he was sent off it was overturned. The last time I sent him off I was under investigation for two weeks. It is not a normal decision in that respect."
It is obvious why Poll regards dismissing Terry as such a big deal. He sent off the England captain when Chelsea played Tottenham in November 2006 and later complained bitterly that the Football Association had failed to back him in the fallout. In the aftermath Chelsea's players claimed Poll had said he had dismissed Terry "to teach Chelsea a lesson". Subsequently, Poll, who denied that allegation, felt that he was given little or no protection by the governing body.
The news that Fabregas will be out for four months did not deter Wenger from claiming that Arsenal can still challenge for the title despite losing the club captain till the spring, but he conceded he may be forced to buy next month. The Arsenal manager said that it was a "massive blow" to lose the player who has been fitted with a protective brace after rupturing his medial knee ligaments on Sunday.
Wenger said that Fabregas would not have to have an operation but he will miss both Champions League ties against Roma in February and March. Wenger said: "It is hard for Cesc because he is a competitor who wants to play every day.
"If we were to play six games in a week he would want to play all six games so it is a massive blow. I believe that the really difficult period is the first six weeks where you are in the brace and you cannot move at all. You cannot practise. When they take the brace off you can have rehabilitation and be busy the whole day.
"How much we will miss him is difficult to say. But we will miss him. We will have to find a way to compensate for the fact he will not be on the pitch and give everybody a bit more. And I am sure we will deal with it and when he comes back he can help us to get over the line in the final months.
"I have no complaints about the challenge [by Xabi Alonso], it was fair and honest. As I have said many times, it is the kind of thing you accept in the game that can happen."
Despite Lassana Diarra's £22m move to Real Madrid this week, Wenger said that he had no regrets about allowing him to move to Portsmouth in January. "At the time we had a midfield that was Alex Hleb, Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini and Tomas Rosicky and he [Diarra] was behind that and he couldn't accept it," Wenger said. "What can you do?"
* West Bromwich are to sign youngster Jay Simpson on loan from Arsenal in the transfer window. A number of Championship clubs wanted to take the highly rated striker on loan but he will gain first-team experience in the Premier League at The Hawthorns.
Blank Cesc: Possible replacements
Denilson, 20 yrs old, 25 Arsenal games, 2 goals
Aaron Ramsey, 17 yrs old, 11 games, 1 goal
Alex Song, 21 yrs, 23 games, 1 goal
... and from afar
Jimmy Bullard (Fulham), 29 yrs old, value: £5m
Yaya Toure (Barcelona), 25 yrs old, value: £10m
Gareth Barry (Aston Villa), 27 yrs old, value: £18m