Arsène Wenger yesterday launched a scathing attack on the rest of the Premier League for what he claimed was the victimisation of his Arsenal team in the first signs that Frenchman is starting to feel the heat in the title race. Wenger also praised the "outstanding leadership qualities" of William Gallas despite his captain staging a bizarre protest during the draw with Birmingham City on Saturday.
Wenger scoffed at the suggestion that his call for Martin Taylor to be banned for life for his tackle on Eduardo da Silva could have contributed towards the death threats received by the Birmingham defender this week. The Arsenal manager said that he had retracted his comments about Taylor last Saturday because he wanted to give the defender "the benefit of the doubt" after he had spoken to him after the game.
With his team facing Aston Villa in the Premier League today, Wenger said that Arsenal were the victims of a conspiracy to kick them out of games which he hinted was responsible for Eduardo's fate against Birmingham. "The real basic problem in this league is that for the past three years we are the team which has committed fewer fouls than any other team," he said. "We are the team who is fouled more than any other team and we are punished more than any other team.
For his evidence Wenger quoted statistics that do indeed reveal Arsenal have committed the fewest fouls in the last three seasons including this one – 1,217 altogether. The next lowest is Tottenham Hotspur on 1,233. However, Arsenal are not the team who have the most fouls committed against them in the same period: Manchester United (1,467) and Everton (1,465) both have more than Arsenal (1,449). Nevertheless, Wenger was not to be swayed.
"We lost Abou Diaby two years ago, and it was an unbelievable foul on him [he suffered a broken leg and a dislocated ankle against Sunderland]," Wenger said. "I should invite you sometimes to come into the dressing room and look at the legs of Alex Hleb after a game. You would be amazed. But what is happening is not a surprise to us.
"How many times did I sit in a press conference and hear 'Oh, they got in your face today and you did not find an answer'. We try to play football. The guys you should ask this question to is not me, it is the opposition manager. Every four fouls, Arsenal gets a yellow card and some other teams get yellow cards every nine fouls."
There was no doubting the passion of Wenger on this subject but the statistics do not agree. Over the last three seasons, including this one, Arsenal have picked up a booking every 7.95 fouls. It is a much higher average than Chelsea (7.51) and Bolton Wanderers (7.81). Blackburn Rovers, perceived as a dirty team by some, have the same average of 7.95 fouls per booking. Over the same period Arsenal have averaged 2.33 red cards a season, a record that puts them tenth among Premier League clubs
"If you meet one player in my career, in my life that I have asked to kick somebody then I would like you to introduce him to me," Wenger said. "We want to try to play football and bring the good things out of the game. I think football is fantastic, and can be beautiful and unite the world. That is the side we try to get out of our game.
On Gallas, Wenger said that he had simply "used his commitment in the wrong way". He added: "What I hate the most in this job are people who are always nicey-nice and behave well. But they cheat a little bit with their commitment. I prefer sometimes a guy who sometimes goes over board without hurting anybody but cares about winning. That is William, he cares about winning."
Wenger dismissed the suggestion he had stoked the bad feeling against Taylor. "I had a chat with Taylor after the game," Wenger said. "Frankly the tackle looks really bad. He told me he didn't do it intentionally, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt and retracted what I said because I am not 100 per cent sure. Only he knows, so I do not want him to be singled out if he is genuine."
Sir Alex Ferguson defended Taylor. "I've known Martin since he was a kid at Blackburn and he's just a nice footballer. He's never been an aggressive player. But he can take comfort from the fact that everyone appears to have acknowledged that, which I think will be his best help. I don't see any problems for the boy."
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