Wenger admits he tells white lies to protect Arsenal players

Manager defends the use of media smokescreens over sensitive issues when asked about Rooney's comments

His reputation is as the manager who will answer any question straight but Arsène Wenger admitted yesterday that in the past 14 years at Arsenal even he had told lies in order to mislead the media about certain players and protect sensitive issues around the club.

Wenger's words came three days after Wayne Rooney said that Sir Alex Ferguson was wrong to claim that an injured ankle was the reason he missed games against Valencia and Sunderland. There is no suggestion that Ferguson was lying over Rooney but when asked yesterday if he had ever been economical with the truth, Wenger said that he had done so in special circumstances.

Wenger, whose team play Birmingham City at home today, said: "If you are asking me if I have lied to the press to protect a player, I must say yes. I didn't feel comfortable afterwards, but I have a clear conscience because if it's for one of my players it's a good cause.

"Everybody is different – if you ask the players, they want to play every three days, but if you ask the managers, sometimes they feel they have to rest players. But if you want to know if I have lied to protect a player, the honest answer is yes. [I did it] to protect a player. I can't give concrete examples, but when I lie to the press I always speak to the player concerned beforehand to get our story straight."

Wenger still has major injury problems despite the return of Theo Walcott, Nicklas Bendtner and Kieran Gibbs to his squad today. Laurent Koscielny and Bacary Sagna were both injured during the defeat to Chelsea. Thomas Vermaelen is 10 days away from fitness. Wenger had thought that Cesc Fabregas would return to face Birmingham but he is still not ready. Manuel Almunia and Robin Van Persie are also both still out.

Having started the debate on reckless tackling earlier in the season with his criticism of Stoke City's "rugby" tactics, Wenger said yesterday that players guilty of dangerous challenges should be banned for a longer period than the regulation three matches.

The Arsenal manager claimed that the French Football Federation (FFF) has the power to impose longer bans on players in its leagues. In reality, the FFF is guided by the same Fifa rules as the English Football Association. Both have the "exceptional circumstances" clause at their disposal, which the FA invoked on Ben Thatcher for his elbow on Pedro Mendes in 2006.

Behind the scenes Fifa discourages national federations from using the "exceptional circumstances" rule in all but extremely selective cases. The Thatcher incident – for which the Manchester City player was banned for eight games – is the only time it has been and then only because Greater Manchester Police were about to intervene. Wenger said: "I have not seen the tackle of [Nigel] De Jong. But whether is it De Jong or somebody else, we have to make sure that the players know when they go into the game that if they do something that the referee has not seen that is dirty they can get punished. You can be punished in France for a dirty tackle that the referee has not seen. Even if the referee has seen the tackle and it's not punished... you can get six months."

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