Arsène Wenger was not in the mood to cross swords with Rafael Benitez yesterday; instead it was the Dutch great Johan Cruyff whom the Arsenal manager took issue with ahead of tomorrow's game against Liverpool.
As manager of the Catalan football team, a side created to represent the Spanish region that dates back to 1904, Cruyff has briefed in Spain that Cesc Fabregas is "90 per cent sure" to represent his native land in a friendly against Argentina on 22 December. Wenger, unsurprisingly, is refusing to release the player.
The game against Argentina is Cruyff's first as coach of Catalonia and the former Barcelona player and manager is eager to have as many of the region's most famous sons in the team as possible. Many of them, including Xavi Hernandez and Bojan Krkic, will be playing for Barcelona at the Fifa Club World Cup in Dubai and will only return 24 hours before the match.
Cruyff is under the impression that Fabregas could make an appearance for Catalonia because Arsenal do not play Aston Villa until 27 December after their game against Hull a week today. Fabregas, 22, was born in Vilassar de Mar, in Catalonia, north-east of Barcelona and was at Barcelona until Wenger persuaded him to come to Arsenal six years ago.
"We don't allow the players to play in friendlies because we have too many games [at Arsenal]," Wenger (right) said.
"In life you always have to do well for the guy who pays you and the rest is less important. If they want to play charity games, the best way to be charitable is to sign a shirt, because basically I consider [playing in games] is on the cost of the club.
"In England we play football through the Christmas period. In all the other countries they stop and they play friendlies and charity games. There is a demand for Cesc but there is a demand for five or six other players. We play on 27 December and I rested the [senior] players against Olympiakos [on Wednesday] and then I have to let them play a friendly?"
Arsenal are under no obligation to release Fabregas because Catalonia are not recognised by Fifa as an international team and, accordingly, do not fall into the specified international calendar. However, the player himself is likely to come under pressure to play. Catalonia traditionally play games before Christmas because of the break in the Spanish league season.
Wenger will not give up hope in the title race and reminded everyone that he had predicted that, after their defeat to Chelsea at the Emirates, he had predicted that the leaders would drop points. "I said after our game that Chelsea will drop points, do you remember my statement? And everybody looked at me 'This guy has completely lost the plot'.
"One week later they lost at Manchester City, and it's as simple as that. They have lost three games and they will lose more games, don't worry."
As well as his injuries that include Robin van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner, Theo Walcott and Eduardo da Silva, Wenger will also be without Emmanuel Eboué and Tomas Rosicky. So far Arsenal have lost to their fellow big four sides Manchester United and Chelsea – results that Wenger described yesterday as "accidents".
"It is strange because at Manchester United we scored an own goal and were 1-0 up and nothing indicated we would lose the game. Against Chelsea for 40 minutes I never felt we would lose the game. Never. We want to show these were two accidents because we know our fate [in the title race] depends on that."Reuse content