Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Wenger tackles hard-hitting issue

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger maintains there must always be a place for strong tackles — but only if executed within the spirit of the game.

The Gunners have travelled to Holland for tonight's Champions League Group H clash against AZ Alkmaar without England forward Theo Walcott, who could be missing for up to a month after suffering knee ligament damage following a hefty challenge by Birmingham defender Liam Ridgewell during Saturday's Barclays Premier League win at Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners boss has reviewed the tackle again, which at the time was not penalised by referee Lee Probert, and accepts it is difficult to gauge true intent.

Yet while the Arsenal manager may have lambasted travelling Blues fans as “stupid” for chanting “there is only one Martin Taylor”, in reference to the foul which left striker Eduardo with an horrific leg injury in February 2008, Wenger concedes such a physical approach, if applied correctly is an integral part of football.

“It is difficult to see any bad intention there, but still he went well through,” said the Arsenal manager. “I think in the Premier League, you let more go and it is important to let more go than anywhere else in Europe because it makes the games more attractive.

“But you need to keep it going so that everybody plays with the right intention and you do not feel that there is any malice there.

“To get a committed game everybody has to play fair.”

Wenger, who recently became Arsenal's longest serving manager, added: “I like the commitment of the English game. I think the superiority of the English game is down to that.

“Players have the feeling they improve in England because there is more commitment and you do not want to take that out of the game.”

Walcott was making his first start of the campaign against the Blues, having been sidelined by a back problem since August.

Wenger, though, feels the World Cup hopeful — troubled during last season by a shoulder injury which needed surgery — should soon be back to full strength.

“It will be three to four weeks, but we are hoping it could be shorter,” said Wenger.

Czech winger Thomas Rosicky has also stayed in London nursing a minor knee problem, but full-back Gael Clichy has shaken off the ankle knock which saw him sit out the Birmingham game.

Arsenal are the leading scorers in the English top flight, netting a record 27 goals from the first eight matches.

Wenger, though, feels it is also his team's hard work when not in possession which has helped their progress. “If we score goals, it is because we have the ball. To have the ball, you need to defend,” he said. “That is why I believe we have a good team ethic, a good working attitude together. We all play on the same wavelength, which is why everybody scores.”

With two wins already in Group H, the first coming after trailing |2-0 at Standard Liege inside the opening five minutes, Arsenal — who have chalked up seven successive victories — could all but secure a place in the knockout stages tonight.

Tonight’s Key Battles

Robin van Persie v Kew Jaliens

Van Persie scored in the 3-1 win over Birmingham to take his season's tally to five and will again be the Gunners' main weapon. Defender Kew Jaliens will know all about van Persie, having been part of Holland's 2006 World Cup squad and he will need to be on his guard.

Cesc Fabregas v David Mendas Da Silva

Fabregas is central to the link with the forwards and continues to enjoy more freedom while flanked by defensive duo Abou Diaby and Alex Song. Former Ajax midfielder da Silva is one of AZ's most creative players, has good close control and can cause the Gunners' backline plenty of problems with his distribution.

Thomas Vermaelen v Mounir El Hamdaoui

Belgium international Vermaelen was Arsenal's only buy of the summer and so far has looked a bargain at £10million. He has settled in quickly with William Gallas at the heart of the defence and also has an eye for goal with five already.

Morocco striker El Hamdaoui signed for Tottenham in January 2005 but never made an appearance in the Premier League before being loaned to Derby. Has rediscovered his form with AZ, scoring their first Champions League goal in the 1-1 draw with Standard Liege.

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