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Sunday 4 December 2016

Arsene Wenger criticises call to withdraw referee Kevin Friend from Stoke-Spurs

Published 15/04/2016 | 11:21

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is unhappy about how referee Kevin Friend has been treated
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is unhappy about how referee Kevin Friend has been treated

Arsene Wenger has criticised the decision to withdraw referee Kevin Friend from overseeing Monday's Premier League fixture between Tottenham and Stoke.

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The Professional Game Match Officials Board took the decision to remove him from a game which could do much to influence Tottenham's pursuit of the title because he supports Leicester, the league leaders, owing to "the timing and context" surrounding it.

Spurs fans wrote of their concerns about Friend's allegiance on social media, but Wenger believes such forums should not be able to affect decisions that are taken and is both "surprised and disappointed" that a professional official's impartiality is being questioned.

"I'm completely against that," the Arsenal manager said. "The referees are professional people. You're supposed to be impartial whatever happens. I was always against this rule. I believe that, on some level, someone doesn't believe completely that the referee is not impartial [sic]. It surprises me that that happens.

"Social media shouldn't dictate the rules or what happens to a referee. People at the top level have the responsibility to make these decisions. I'm surprised and disappointed.

"I had this chat already with [referees' chief] Mike Riley. You cannot consider referees having to declare who they support and then not refereeing that team. If they referee a team who is fighting with the team they support, they can't even referee that match.

"If you go down that route, you're thinking the referees are not professional. To be profesional is to do what the rules demand. If they can't be impartial because they have an emotional link with the club, that's not about being professional.

"If you go that way, it becomes a nightmare every week to choose a referee for every single game. A dangerous precedent.

"The solution is you don't look where they come from, who they support, and you put the best referees into the games."

Wenger also revealed Jack Wilshere is not yet ready for a first-team return.

The midfielder played the entire 90 minutes of the under-21s' 3-1 defeat by Swansea on Thursday, a fixture in which Tomas Rosicky also featured, but Wenger has no intention of rushing him back to senior level or including him in his squad for Sunday's visit of Crystal Palace.

Despite being yet to play this season having suffered a broken leg, Wilshere remains central to Roy Hodgson's plans for Euro 2016 and could prove increasingly important for the England manager, particularly given concerns surrounding Jordan Henderson's fitness.

"He needs one more game at least with the under-21s," said Wenger, 66. "He should be involved (with them) on Monday night, and I have to see how he is compared to all the other competitors for places in the first team.

"Once he is through with three or four games at that level, of course you consider him (for the first team).

"Crystal Palace should be completely safe even if they may still need one or two points.

"They're a team with a good offensive potential, with strong individuals like (Yannick) Bolasie, (Wilfried) Zaha, (Emmanuel) Adebayor, (Connor) Wickham. So we have to rectify the fact we conceded (three) at West Ham and come back to being strong defensively."

Asked whether Petr Cech or David Ospina will start in goal, Wenger replied: "I have not decided."

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