Arsene Wenger has poured scorn on Chelsea's claims that they have made £340m of debt to owner Roman Abramovich disappear by joking that Christmas is traditionally a "period for magicians". The Arsenal manager has consistently railed against clubs who spend out of proportion to their income.
Wenger made the remark when asked about the latest announcement from Chelsea that Abramovich has converted his £340m loan into equity, which the club claims leaves them debt-free. The move by Chelsea is widely regarded as a way of circumventing Uefa president Michel Platini's plan to ensure all Champions League clubs are debt-free.
The "magicians" comments from Wenger, after the victory over Portsmouth on Wednesday, mirrored Carlo Ancelotti's retort to the Arsenal manager's correct prediction that Chelsea would drop points after their victory at the Emirates in November. In the first sign of friction between the two men, Ancelotti called Wenger "a good magician" in a sarcastic response to the Frenchman's forecast.
Abramovich's investment in Chelsea stands at around £710m and, given he already owns the club, it is hard to understand how he could have converted his loans into equity. Chelsea made great play of the announcement this week when they disclosed they had lost £44.4m in the last financial year.
Wenger, whose Arsenal team face West Ham in the FA Cup tomorrow, said the example of Portsmouth and their financial problems demonstrated how clubs have a duty to supporters to spend within their means. "It is sad because, basically, the clubs belong to the fans. That's all I feel my responsibility is, to keep the club in good financial condition because you want people to keep the club alive. What is sad is that the fans are in danger of losing the clubs that they love. And that's a responsibility we all have together.
"Professional football is about winning and balancing the budget. That's the basic rule, one I fought for. All the rest is half-cheating. I don't know about what has happened [at Portsmouth] but for every club it has to be the same: for Chelsea, for everybody. I've always pleaded for financial fair play."
Wenger has said he will make changes to his team for the game at Upton Park to make sure Arsenal are fresh to resume their title bid against Bolton on Wednesday. The FA Cup was the last trophy Arsenal won, in 2005, and while Wenger said he still wanted to win the competition his priority is the title race, where Arsenal unexpectedly find themselves back in contention.
"I will have to rest some players [against West Ham], that is for sure," Wenger said. "We want to win, but we want to protect our home games against Bolton and Everton as well, to keep the momentum going. The Premier League is always more important [than the FA Cup], but, in the eyes of the fans, we are looking for trophies.
"However, the Premier League is so hard that you want to take care of your position. Two years ago we had a very good chance [at the title], and we were not far away. At the moment we have to keep our spirit and out attitude, then we have a chance."
There is a chance Philippe Senderos, who spent last season on loan at Milan, could make a return to the squad if he recovers from injury in time. Tomas Rosicky could be back in contention and Wenger will also have Alex Song available for the last time before he reports for African Nations Cup duty with Cameroon. Cesc Fabregas, Denilson and Theo Walcott are out.
Wenger said: "A season is judged on the overall achievement, and people look to who has won the trophies – but I also look at how we have done and how consistently we have played. This team is enjoyable to watch, but also to manage because I want to win every game."