Saturday 24 February 2018

Wenger demands apology from UEFA 'dictatorship' for Nou Camp nightmare as he shows no regrets over ref rant

Arsene Wenger was in defiant mood yesterday as the fall-out continued from his argument with referee Massimo Busacca in Barcelona on Tuesday night. Photo: AP
Arsene Wenger was in defiant mood yesterday as the fall-out continued from his argument with referee Massimo Busacca in Barcelona on Tuesday night. Photo: AP

Henry Winter

Arsene Wenger risked antagonising UEFA further with an outspoken attack on the governing body of European football, accusing it of being a "dictatorship."

Arsenal's unrepentant manager called on UEFA to show "a bit more humility" and apologise for Robin van Persie's controversial dismissal by Massimo Busacca in Barcelona.

The Swiss referee brandished a second yellow to Van Persie for kicking the ball away, although the Dutchman claimed he had not heard the whistle to stop play for an offside.

Wenger's apoplectic reaction prompted a UEFA charge and another could follow. Neither contrition nor circumspection could be detected in the Frenchman's remarks yesterday.

The lament of the sore loser never makes easy listening. In intensifying his criticism of Busacca, and particularly UEFA, Wenger may genuinely be feeling persecuted.

He may also be attempting to deflect scrutiny away from a squad shell-shocked by defeats to Birmingham City and Barcelona.

An insight into his mindset came when asked whether Alex Ferguson was right to order media blackouts.

"I defend Arsenal, and Ferguson -- don't worry -- is strong enough to defend Manchester United," he replied.

Good managers defend their dressing-rooms, especially when the inhabitants are at a psychologically low ebb.

As diversionary tactics go, Wenger lobbed around some pretty spectacular verbal fireworks yesterday.

Speaking after training at London Colney, the Frenchman was in full Edith Piaf mode, regretting nothing, with a touch of Joan of Arc's martyr defiance thrown in for good measure.

"They do not punish me," declared Wenger of UEFA's charge.

"It's Arsenal Football Club that has been punished. We are out of the Champions League, we have lost one of our big ambitions, we have been punished with a lot of damages and, on top of that, we have to say sorry to UEFA. We have done nothing wrong. They organised the competition, they named the referees."

UEFA can argue it named one of the best in Busacca, an official with experience of two World Cups, one European Championship, one Champions League final (2008) and one UEFA Cup final (2007). Yet his decision to dismiss Van Persie continues to chafe away at Wenger like a sharp pebble in a tight shoe.

shame

"It is a shame the referee took the decision to send Robin off because it was the wrong decision. The first game was a fantastic advert for football and the second game has been destroyed. The only thing people remember is the sending-off killed the game.

"This decision frustrated us and frustrated everybody who loves football. When you have a game of that stature, you cannot come out with decisions like that and show a lot of arrogance on top. We all understand we can make wrong decisions, but after that it becomes dictatorship. It's not any more common sense.

"I deny completely any charge. A bit more humility would do UEFA some good. To apologise for what happened would be much better than to charge people who have done nothing wrong. UEFA has to have a little bit lower profile after what happened on Tuesday; that would be much better and more sensible."

UEFA sources indicated it would be highly unlikely to charge Wenger for his "dictatorship" comments.

The wreckage from a bad night in Catalonia lay around Wenger, who had to confront criticism from the likes of Xavi of Arsenal's conservative tactics.

"If I had played two full-backs on each flank in midfield you could say, 'Okay, they just wanted to defend'," countered Wenger.

"But we played Rosicky, Nasri, Fabregas, Wilshere, Van Persie and Diaby. Not one defensive player.

"How can people think I said to the players, 'just stay in our half and wait'. We had no option, they closed us down so well in the first half, that we didn't manage to get out. Look at the speed with which we lost the ball.

"Barcelona had two shots on goal in the first half, plus the goal we gave away. Apart from that, they had a very sterile domination. We had more shots than Barcelona in the first game and we would have had shots in this game had it remained 11 v 11."

Wenger's belief in his squad's ability to recover sounded unshakeable. "Overall, they can gain a lot of confidence. The attitude and quality we have shown in the two games against Barcelona was outstanding, offensively and defensively. Since November, I feel this team has taken off."

Eventually, he admitted that uncertainty stalked his players, that Arsenal needed victory over United in the FA Cup tomorrow for psychological, as well as sporting, reasons.

"We need it, I must say, because we need help. We have been touched severely recently.

"We lost one competition in the last minute (Carling Cup final). We played the super-favourite of the Champions League and lost under special circumstances. We want to deal well with the two psychological blows."

Cesc Fabregas' hamstring injury precludes his involvement against United "and maybe for the next two games".

"He is very disappointed because it is becoming a bit of a problem for him but it is very superficial," said Wenger.

Wenger is looking for an "emergency 'keeper" on loan with Wojciech Szczesny having dislocated his finger.

"He has a dislocated finger with a tendon problem and we need an assessment of a specialist to see where we go from here," Wenger said. "He had a scan and is out for a while, for how long I can't tell you.

"We will look for an emergency keeper and I have somebody in mind, but it won't be in time for this weekend."

Forgotten man Manuel Almunia replaced him against Barcelona and it looks like the Spaniard is set for an extended run in the side with Lukasz Fabianski already ruled out for the rest of the season.

Theo Walcott, Alex Song and Thomas Vermaelen are all out although Van Persie is available.

At the end of a bad week for the club, Arsenal have expressed their concern to Barcelona about the treatment of their fans in the Nou Camp. Arsenal supporters spoke of over-aggressive policing before and after the match. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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