Arsene Wenger yesterday made an impassioned call for players who commit bad tackles to receive bans of more than 10 matches – but claimed Cristiano Ronaldo is sometimes guilty of "arrogance" that is "provocative" to opponents which is one of the reasons why he may be targeted.
"Every bad tackle that is not punished I feel is not right," the Arsenal manager Wenger said when asked about a terrible two-footed challenge on Ronaldo by Alan Smith during Wednesday night's Premier League match against Newcastle United at St James' Park.
"With Manchester United I am a bit cautious because sometimes I feel they get too much protection and sometimes they don't get enough," Wenger said. "Ronaldo is a specific example of that. Sometimes his arrogance is provocative – and his class as well."
By describing Ronaldo in such a way, even though he also recognises the winger's undoubted talents, Wenger is inviting a provocative response from United and their manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, especially as Arsenal trail the champions by 16 points in the league. Ferguson said yesterday Ronaldo was an "easy target" for referees who give decisions against him. Wenger is also opening himself up to criticism, given his team's, at times, poor disciplinary record. Seventy-six red cards have been issued to Arsenal players during his 12 and a half years in charge.
Wenger insisted that he had never, in all his time as a manager, told any of his players "to kick a player", but claimed he was fearful that, although the Premier League is "less dirty" than when he arrived at Arsenal in 1996, some teams deliberately go out to "hurt" their opponents and that, at present, the punishments they receive are not sufficient.
Wenger is proposing a special committee to analyse horrific challenges and decide whether, in some cases, a three-match ban for a red card is sufficient. "Because I feel in some tackles 10 [matches] is not enough," he said of the need for such a committee which, he added, should not include anyone working within the game. "Personally I am very, very aggressive with the intention of the tackle. An accident can happen when two people go for the ball, but it is very rare.
There has been a spate of poor challenges of late – with Wigan Athletic's meeting with West Ham peppered by several bad tackles – while Wenger described the recent actions of Kevin Nolan, who ended Victor Anichebe's season with a two-footed lunge, as "horrendous". Under Wenger's plan, it would be one of the tackles he would deem worthy of further investigation even though Nolan was given a straight red card. "Maybe we [managers] need to be stronger with our own players, but sometimes you see the players who make horrendous tackles and they say to the referees, 'What's wrong there?' After you see the pictures you think, 'My friend, touch your head because you have completely lost touch with reality.' It's unbelievable. But they know what they have done."
Wenger was incensed by the challenge made on Abou Diaby by Sunderland's Dan Smith in May 2006, which resulted in the midfielder suffering a fracture and dislocation of his ankle. Such was Wenger's anger that Arsenal considered taking legal action. "With Diaby, yes," he said when asked whether he had wanted to sue. "If you tackle a player, anybody in the street like that, you go to jail."
More recently there was, last year, Martin Taylor's challenge on Eduardo which resulted in a horrendous leg break, for which the Birmingham City defender has apologised and insisted was accidental. "I believe that on this tackle I don't really know what the intention was. I have a doubt because he [Taylor] is not a dirty player. Was he just too slow? But without any question he was too high," Wenger said.
He said that there were two main reasons why tackles appear to be worse and causing more damage. Firstly because players are faster, and the game is too, and often bigger – "90 kilos and running 100 metres in 11 seconds" – therefore causing greater injury.
"We have fewer dirty challenges but when you have them it is much more dangerous because the power of the players is much higher. The skill is so high if you are caught just a fraction of a second late when you are on your standing leg it can destroy your career," Wenger said.
The second reason he cited was because the "fantastic technique" of executing a good tackle is a dying art. "The referees punish tackles without distinction," Wenger said. "I'm scared that the good tackle goes out of the game and the good tackle is beautiful to watch because of the guy sliding in, playing the ball, focused on the ball. And then you see a guy tackling with two feet, one is at the level of the knee, the other one is half over the ball, you say, 'Byebye, go home, what are you doing on a football pitch?' But the danger of these people who just go in, I don't know really what they want to do, they go in there blindly." "Good tacklers" – such as Tony Adams and Martin Keown during Wenger's time at Arsenal – are in short supply partly because of this loss of technique, because the game is quicker and because pitches are now less muddy.
Arsenal face Burnley in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Sunday, with Wenger welcoming Theo Walcott back into the squad after nearly four months out following further shoulder surgery. Wenger also has Eduardo and William Gallas available, although there is a doubt over Kolo Touré. It is hoped Cesc Fabregas will be able to return in two weeks while Emmanuel Adebayor is also close to fitness.Reuse content