Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Arsène Wenger furious over fixtures 'conspiracy'

Arsenal manager accuses rivals of using TV firms to 'fix' schedules to suit them

Arsene Wenger

Arsène Wenger has launched an astonishing attack on the Premier League's fixture scheduling, accusing clubs of asserting influence on television broadcasters to their own benefit.



In an outburst of Jose Mourinho or Rafael Benitez proportions, the Arsenal manager effectively outlined a conspiracy theory that has often left his team with shorter preparation time for matches.



"It's not a big accusation, it is the truth," claimed the Frenchman. "I don't believe the Premier League has played a very fair role in the last months or the last year in the distribution of the fixtures. They are sold to television, and television is influenced by some clubs to choose the fixtures. And some clubs get advantaged by television, if it's Sky or ESPN, because they have an influence there from the clubs directly.



"If things are repeated then it's not a coincidence any more. In England it's always very difficult to say what you feel about that, but I'm not the only manager who thinks that. There's a real problem there."



Wenger stopped short of naming which clubs he believes were influencing broadcasters but was clearly upset at teams having different recovery periods between games.



Manchester United might appear to have had the most sympathetic run of fixtures over the Christmas period but it seems all of the current top four have an advantage over Arsenal when it comes to the round of midweek fixtures at the end of the month.



Manchester City, United, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea will all play on 31 January; Arsenal will then play two matches before those four teams take to the pitch again. "If I fight with you in a 100 metres run on Sunday and you have to run the semi-final on Sunday morning and I have a run on Friday morning, I just say: 'Is that fair or not?' And it's not," Wenger said.



"The responsibility of the Premier League is to make sure that Premier League fixtures are better distributed than they are."



When pressed, Wenger stood by his claim of other clubs influencing Sky Sports and ESPN over when and which fixtures are broadcast, moving them forward or back from the traditional time of 3pm on Saturday, although he offered no evidence to support his allegations.



"If, tomorrow, you buy a club and your best friend is the owner of Sky TV you don't think you will tell him: 'Look, you put us on Friday night. That's not fair'," he said.



Wenger's anger stemmed from last season when Arsenal played Stoke four days before the Carling Cup final and lost Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott to injury. Birmingham, who defeated them at Wembley, had a week of rest before the showpiece.



He has called for more strength from the Premier League but accepted that a price has to be paid after the £1.6bn deal with Sky Sports, once described by Sir Alex Ferguson as "shaking hands with the devil".



"We have sold our soul and we do not control our games, our fixtures, any more," Wenger said. "I cannot say that the television is wrong, but it's not normal that they can have a direct influence on the schedule for the television. The Premier League should be in complete control of the Premier League, decide what is fair and what is not fair. At the moment, they don't. At the moment the television decides. You cannot have decisive games with one team playing Friday and Tuesday, and another on Sunday and Tuesday. That doesn't work. It is not right."



Sky and ESPN both declined to comment on Wenger's complaints last night.



Arsenal will be on television tomorrow when they face Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium, where all eyes will again be on Thierry Henry following his winning goal against Leeds United on Monday.



The former France forward is likely to be on the bench, but Wenger said: "He's ready to start. He was ready to start against Leeds, but the most important thing is to help the team win games. The way he does it, I cannot say."



Wenger insisted Henry could play with top scorer Robin van Persie. He said: "They can play together, as long as the team's balanced around them."

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