Wenger seeks patience after Wilshere blots great display

Arsenal 2 Birmingham City 1
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The Independent Football

No doubt there were sniggers from certain managers on Saturday about the timing of Arsène Wenger's call for stronger action on dangerous tackles on the very day that Jack Wilshere was sent off for just such a challenge.

Alex McLeish of Birmingham City was not among them. But he does believe that the young England midfield player's reckless lunge on Nikola Zigic could lead to a improved perspective among his peers – including Wenger himself – on the debate over tackling that the Arsenal manager joined in his programme notes.

"I don't think the game is as dirty as it used to be," said McLeish, the veteran of almost 600 battles as an uncompromising central defender with Aberdeen and Scotland. "In my day the centre-forward would try to break your leg. This over-reaction to tackles puzzles me because you are still going to get the occasional stray tackle.

"Jack is a young lad and he'll work at his tackling. Hopefully it will help everyone understand when people are jumping on the bandwagon."

Wenger, of course, can hardly be accused of that, having asked for more protection for his players on many occasions. The issue for some of his rivals is the mismatch between his demand for managers to take responsibility and the 80 red cards shown to his players in his 800 matches in charge of Arsenal. If Martin Atkinson, the referee, had taken a less lenient view on Saturday of fouls by Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Eboué, the total might now be 82.

"You have to make a difference between an accidental red card and a team who tries to kick you from the first to the last minute," Wenger said. "There's no comparison. I tell my players to play football."

Not even Wenger's harshest critics would call Arsenal a dirty team. But some wonder if he could do more to remind individual players of their responsibilities to the game – pointing out to Marouane Chamakh, for instance, that a light touch on the ankle from Scott Dann did not require a nosedive into the turf.

The resulting penalty, converted by Nasri, cancelled out Zigic's opener, and Chamakh's slightly flukey second-half strike won the match. While we are briefly talking about football rather than fouls, let us recall that Wilshere was the best player on the pitch, even though his day will be remembered for the way it ended.

"Jack will learn from this because he will not play in the next [three] games," Wenger said. "You must also say his maturity shows in the game, the influence he has on the game at 18 years old is something that should not be hidden by the fact that he got a red card today. We were all 18 once."

But not under the additional pressure of being one of England's brightest hopes? Wenger agreed. "The pressure and expectation level will be higher for him than for Cesc Fabregas because there is a demand inside the country."

Match facts

Possession Arsenal 62% Birmingham 38%. Shots on target Arsenal 13 Birmingham 4. Referee M Atkinson (Yorkshire). Att 60,070. Man of the match Wilshere. Match rating 7/10.