Wenger and violence

Arsene Wenger avoids the charge of the pot calling the kettle black since the Gunners' disciplinary record, once so dire, has improved a great deal in recent seasons. So, one can take him seriously when he speaks out against poor quality of refereeing, writes Brian Glanville.

A cascade of criticism has descended on the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger since he publicly criticised violent challenges. Some of them were hardly mere challenges on his own accomplished players. He has been accused of trying to influence referees to give special protection to his players. He has incurred the wrath and resentment of such opposing managers as Tony Pulis of Stoke City, Sam Allardyce of Blackburn Rovers, Owen Coyle of Bolton Wanderers, not to mention ex-professionals such as Ireland's Andy Townsend and pontificating ex-referee, Graham Poll, now installed as a kind of refereeing guru, but all too well remembered as the man who flourished three yellow cards at the same player during a World Cup match in Germany, in 2006.

But if Tony Pulis was incensed by Wenger's criticisms of his big blond reckless centre back Ryan Shawcross, who shockingly put the gifted young Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey out of the game for many months last season, and offended Wenger with his recent treatment of the Gunners' goalkeeper, Manuel Alumnia, let him dwell on the still more recent words of the Fulham manager, Mark Hughes, once himself a robustly effective centre forward for Manchester United, Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Wales.

After Stoke's Andy Wilkinson's dreadful assault on the talented Belgian international forward, Moussa Dembele, appropriately in injury time, Hughes declared: “The tackle was absolutely ridiculous at that stage of the game. When your team is two goals up in injury time, there is a certain code that you look after your fellow professionals. He has ignored that and put a fellow player's career at risk. We have already lost Bobby Zamora (Fulham's incisive centre-forward, lamed in a tackle by Wolves' Karl Henry) for five months, so we can ill afford to lose another quality striker.”

Yes, it must be admitted that in earlier seasons under Wenger Arsenal had form, and an avalanche of yellow and red cards, France's Patrick Viera, now in his dotage at Manchester City, being a particular offender. But though Wenger alas has hardly strengthened his case when, at Sunderland, he shoved the fourth official, Martin Atkinson, in the back, infuriated by the possible excessive length of injury time, in which the home team equalised, I cannot line up with his critics.

Owen Coyle, for one, could hardly dispute the fact that his full back, Paul Robinson, at the Emirates, was guilty of a deplorable foul on the Gunners' midfielder Abou Diaby, which rendered him hors de combat for a good long time. Go back a couple of seasons and there was the horrific assault, you can call it little else, of the Birmingham City defender, Taylor, on Arsenal's Brazilian-Croatian international, Eduardo, causing multiple fractures and prolonged absence from the game. Though it was a Swiss defender who earlier this season, took a hack at Arsenal's flying outside right, Theo Walcott, playing for England, which damaged his ankle ligaments and put him, too, out for weeks to come. By the way, Wilkinson didn't even receive a yellow card from an inept referee.

Wenger avoids the charge of the pot calling the kettle black since the Gunners' disciplinary record, once so dire, has improved a great deal in recent seasons. So, one can take him seriously when he says, “The referees are always very swift with me (they fined him £8000 and suspended him for one game for his Atkinson push). He might well be remembering a previous occasion some years ago when he was quite plainly wronged and it took quite a while before he had his severe punishment greatly reduced though not wholly expunged as it should surely have been. Under that urbane, sophisticated, humorous exterior beats as he himself has confessed a passionate temperament.

Never more so that on that horrid day at Upton Park when Arsenal played West Ham, I was there to see it, Hammers scored and their manager Alan Pardew on the touchline went into excessive ecstasies of triumph. It was too much for Wenger, standing nearby, and he had to be restrained from confronting the frenetic Pardew.

Following the latest Sunderland incident, Wenger pursued, “I said I was wrong, but with tackles, if a foul has not been seen by the referee, they (the FA) can do nothing about it. If you want to get bad tackles out of the game, at some point you have to accept that the FA can have a view of the video to punish players.”

That makes very good sense but I and another critic who I know would go even further: would welcome a rule whereby when a shocking foul put an opponent out of the game for a substantial time, his aggressor should be banned until his victim has recovered. It won't happen of course. And in the meantime, people like Poll are insisting that things were far worse back in the 1980 producing statistics in an attempt to prove it. To which those such as myself can but rejoin that a dangerous foul is a dangerous foul, however few or how many are committed overall.

It has also been asserted that the game now is so much faster than it ever has been, which makes challenges more likely to do damage. But those I have cited surely have nothing to do with the pace of the game but everything to do with the intentions of the transgressor. Sometimes, of course, as in the recent case of Antonio Valencia, the Ecuadorian right winger of Manchester United, a dreadful injury can result with no blame attached to the opposition. Valencia, playing in the European Cup against Rangers at Old Trafford, was certainly challenged, but damaged himself fearfully simply by the way in which he happened to fall.

while the leading referees were setting an example, the woeful refereeing of England's Howard Webb in the recent World Cup final in South Africa was hardly a beacon of light. There is no valid doubt at all that he should have expelled Holland's Nigel De Jong which he admits now though De Jong still pleads innocence, for his abominable foul from behind on Spain's Xavi Alonso; who felt the consequences of it throughout the game. And many believed that the ever abrasive Mark Van Bommel should have gone off too for a couple of bad challenges.