Wenger: Arsenal criticism is unfair

Ahead of Liverpool game, manager says his 'positive' side are judged too harshly
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The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger's latest date with destiny arrives with the fallout still tumbling out from the last. The Arsenal manager went back on the offensive yesterday, delivering a withering riposte to Michael Ballack's suggestion that Arsenal are predictable. The Frenchman suggested that "positive" football sides like his own receive more criticism than those who "refuse to play".

Wenger's inference ahead of Liverpool's arrival in north London for tonight's Premier League game was that Chelsea – a side with "tricks" as he put it on Sunday evening – are among those doing the refusing. The 2-0 defeat to Carlo Ancelotti's side has clearly hurt him deeply – "It is very painful – do you think I fight every day and night to lose the game?" he said – and Ballack's talk of predictability has added salt to the wound.

"When you try to have a positive philosophy, if you don't win you are more criticised than a team who refuses to play," Wenger complained. "It is like that. Barcelona is praised when they win and if they don't win they are more criticised than any other team. Why? Because they are predictable.

"What is predictable is that we try to pass the ball. Now if somebody can prove to me that the purpose in football is not to try to pass the ball, then OK I will believe it. I don't. I know as well that it's down to me to live with the criticism of people. But the same people who said that we will not be in the top 10 now slaughter us because we are in the top three."

The contours of Wenger's anguish were hard to follow at times. There was even a suggestion of frustration that Arsenal suddenly find themselves on the defensive again while John Terry has evolved from villain to hero in the course of a few good performances. "Who cares about what is fair today and not fair?" he asked. "The same people who said you have to take the armband off John Terry said the day after he's fantastic because Chelsea won the game."

More transparent was his belief that Ballack – who said on Sunday that Chelsea "knew the way [Arsenal] would play" – should try displaying grace in victory, like himself. "You say in the press I am a sore loser. Maybe – I don't deny that. But in the last game I was not and one quality you have to give me when you read some of my press conferences, is that after the game when we win I always try to give credit to the loser."

The one consolation for Wenger is that he seems to have won the tussle with Liverpool for the services next season of Bordeaux forward Marouane Chamakh. Rafael Benitez, the Liverpool manager, looked less than pleased yesterday when he declared "I don't think we will sign him." However, the Arsenal manager suggested that his club generally cannot afford the major wages that come with a big name signing. "If you go on high transfers, you go on high wages," reflected the manager, who seems unlikely to be able to start with Nicklas Bendtner tonight as the striker works his way back to full fitness. "It is linked, but we cannot afford it. In football, we live like everybody can buy and buy and buy. But look at what happened in this transfer market. Give me one big move? Zero."

Benitez was an improbable source of support for Wenger yesterday, despite Arsenal being the only long-standing, top-flight ground where he has never won as a manager, with Andrei Arshavin's five goals in the clubs' last two league meetings contributing to defeats. "He is a fantastic manager doing a very good job for 15 years in a foreign country," Benitez said. "They had two or three opportunities against Chelsea and 70 per cent of possession, they are a good team. I don't agree with the analysis that they were predictable and under control."

Benitez knows much more than Wenger about not having money to spend. High level club sources said yesterday that neither of the two reported new Indian investors had been in contact with either Liverpool or their principal bankers, Royal Bank of Scotland. But without playing at all well last month, Liverpool have quietly put together a seven-game unbeaten run in the Premier League and Benitez, whose central defensive troubles are exacerbated by Sotirios Kyrgiakos' suspension tonight, can aspire to Arsenal's third place – even though the manager will not risk talking about it.

"Clearly all the teams are losing points so you never know," he said of Arsenal's fast fading title pretensions. "If you ask me, it depends on us and we will try to win and it will then be difficult for them so I have to have the belief and confidence that we will get three points against them and it will be more difficult for them. But you never know in football."

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