Arsene Wenger has defended the Christmas programme of English football fixtures, proposing that a winter break should be scheduled for early January, so as to preserve the late December matches.
"It is the charm and craziness of English football," said Wenger of the Christmas programme, which this year had Arsenal hosting Chelsea on the evening of 27 December before travelling to Wigan Athletic two days later. Tomorrow they travel to Birmingham City to play their third Premier League game in six days.
But the Arsenal manager stressed that he relishes the challenge. "I like it, I'm vaccinated after the years I'm here," he said. "I like it because it is part of tradition and because it is part of what makes English football very popular all over the world."
That global appeal of Premier League football over Christmas is something that, Wenger says, explains its enduring success. "The whole world stops and England goes on. So when Arsenal plays Chelsea, the whole world has no choice than to watch. The whole world doesn't work, is bored and watches English football, which is not boring."
This is not to say that Wenger does not want a winter break. "I think after that [the Christmas break] you would like a little breather," he said, listing Arsenal's early January schedule: home to Manchester City and Leeds United on 5 and 8 January respectively, before travelling to Portman Road to play Ipswich Town in a Carling Cup semi-final on 12 January. Hence his prescription: "I would like a winter break but after Christmas. Create a break after 2 January for two weeks. We can go on holiday for one week and prepare for one week."
Wenger went on to talk of his hope that assistant manager Pat Rice will extend his contract beyond the end of this season, which Wenger rated as a "90 per cent" chance. Rice has been assistant throughout Wenger's 14-year tenure as manager, having previously been a coach at Arsenal as well as playing for the club between 1964 and 1980.
"There have been talks about that [Rice going]," admitted Wenger. "He will be at the end of his contract at the end of the season. He will not go anywhere else. So will he stay or stop? I want to persuade him to continue. He has been vitally important You can trust him, he is reliable, he has fantastic football knowledge."
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