Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, yesterday defended his team's disciplinary record following suggestions he has been hypocritical over his stance on aggressive tackling.
Following Jack Wilshere's dismissal against Birmingham on Saturday, only Bolton and Wolves have a worse record in the Premier League for combined yellow and red cards.
Wenger's comments came on the eve of tonight's Champions League match against Shakhtar Donetsk when he will be reunited with Eduardo, the Croatia forward whose career at Arsenal was derailed by the serious leg and ankle injury he suffered in 2008 following a challenge by Birmingham's Martin Taylor.
"You will not find many people in Europe who will tell you Arsenal is a dirty team," said the Frenchman. "I'm still calling for it – I defend football. Whether my players are involved or not doesn't matter.
"If you look at our record and the number of fouls we have made this season, look at the fair-play table in the last five years – you will always find Arsenal in the top two or three.
"That speaks for the consistency in our behaviour. It's true occasionally we go overboard as well but that does not mean in the longer term our record isn't fantastic."
Emmanuel Eboué, the Arsenal midfielder, revealed that Wenger rarely urges caution among his players about their own tackling. The 27-year-old Ivory Coast international could have been with Wilshere in the dressing room at the weekend but his "scissor" tackle on Liam Ridgewell was not punished with a red card.
"I didn't go to kill him," said Eboué. "The referee spoke with me after the game and said I touched the ball but it was a very dangerous tackle.
"Our boss knows us very well, we just want to play football and don't kick anyone. The boss never told us about tackles, he just says to play football." Eboué and Wenger were in agreement in their warmth for Eduardo, who left for the Ukraine league leaders in the summer after failing to regain the form he showed before his injury.
"I will be happy and sad to see Eduardo," Wenger said. "I will be happy because he was always a fantastic boy with a fantastic mentality and sad because I worked very hard to get him here and he left with the feeling that he could not completely fulfil the promise he had in the first season.
"That was basically down to the fact he was injured for a long time and somebody else moved in front of him.
"It is very difficult to quantify how good he could have been for Arsenal. He just had the class of an Arsenal player."
Eduardo is part of a squad five points clear of their domestic league rivals, and they have matched Arsenal by winning their first two Group H games. The winners at the Emirates Stadium tonight will be within touching distance of the knockout stages.
Wenger has been boosted by the return of Cesc Fabregas, his captain, following a hamstring problem. "Cesc is available," he confirmed. "He is good and has prepared well. He had a little setback, but got over the hurdle and is ready to play at full fitness.
"We know his influence on our team, he is our leader, our passer, he has a good level of assists and a good level of goalscoring. Ideally you want him in the team."
Theo Walcott is also back in the squad following an ankle injury but the news was not good concerning the Dutch forward Robin van Persie, who will be out until the middle of next month with a similar complaint despite the initial diagnosis suggesting he would be back this month.
Wenger's assessment of Van Persie is at odds with the Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk, who earmarked the forward for international duty against Turkey on 17 November.
"I think the Dutch coach has a good sense of humour," Wenger said. "There is no chance. "Van Persie is a few weeks away, I think three weeks, so that means mid-November."
Fabregas's return offers a reminder of the situation at Manchester United, where Wayne Rooney appears unsettled. Fabregas has remained where he was, rather than joining Barcelona. "When they are under contract, of course it is possible to keep players," Wenger suggested.
Wenger also pointed out that consistency wins titles, rather than superstars. He added: "Chelsea won the championship last year, and Rooney was at Manchester United. That didn't stop Chelsea from winning the championship.
"What's important is that you perform well. What we've learnt since the start of the season is that the games we lost, we could've won, and that the team who wins the title will be the most consistent one, because everyone will drop points."
Three key clashes
Seacute;bastien Squillaci v Luiz Adriano
Because of injuries, the Frenchman has become stand-in captain but has made of a couple of costly errors recently. Squillaci will have to show his experience against Luiz Adriano, the quick Brazilian striker who hit an impressive double in Shakhtar's last Champions League game.
Gaël Clichy v Douglas Costa
The attack-minded Clichy may be forced to defend more against the exciting and much-in-demand Brazilian winger. The skilful left-footer, dubbed the "new Ronaldinho", will look to provide inspiration cutting in from the right. Such is his importance to the side the 20-year-old is set to be rushed back for tonight's game after missing the past fortnight with a thigh injury.
Marouane Chamakh v Dmytro Chygrynskiy
The focal point of the Gunners' attack - the towering Moroccan has slotted in effortlessly since moving to the Emirates on a free from Bordeaux over the summer, leading the line in Robin van Persie's absence. But he will face a difficult test against the tough centre-back Chygrynskiy, who is rediscovering his form after a demoralising year at Barcelona.
Kick-off: 7.45pm, Emirates Stadium. TV: Sky Sports 2 Ref: S O Moen (Nor)Reuse content