Wenger stands by comments

But Gunners manager is frustrated by 'unneeded controversy'

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger remains '100 per cent' committed to his criticism of Ryan Shawcross and Stoke and has delivered a passionate analysis of English football.

The Gunners boss was furious last weekend after midfielder Aaron Ramsey suffered a fractured tibia and fibula following a tackle which earned Shawcross a red card.

Wenger described the challenge as 'horrendous and unacceptable' and stands by his comments, although he does accept that the physical commitment of the Premier League is a positive attribute.

"I stand by what I said 100%," Wenger declared ahead of Saturday's meeting with Burnley. "I knew exactly what would happen the whole week, that was quite easy to predict."

Wenger continued: "I am sitting here like I am in a tribunal. What do I have to defend? Is it a football game or something else?

"I can understand people want to be committed against us, and I have no problem with that.

"I love the commitment of the English game. I don't want to change that and it makes the game even more attractive, but high commitment demands fair intention as well."


Wenger added: "I admire a great technical tackle as much as a creative pass.

"A tackle is an art in itself, that means you always have your eye on the ball, never with a high foot, in your tackle you can already make a pass.

"To close your eyes and go in too physical, that does not mean it is intention, but there is danger.

"Tackling is an art you do not want to get out of the game.

"We have some good tacklers in this league, some who are not good, but that does not mean you go into it trying to break a leg.

"It is not Arsenal against the rest of the world. What I say here is valid for the Arsenal players as well.

"I want the Arsenal players to go into the tackles like everybody else, to go into the tackles and be committed.


"What I say it not just for Stoke or Arsenal players, it is for everybody. I defend football.

"It is not that we are apart from anybody else. We are the same. I am continuing to defend the values that I believe are important for our club and football.

"That doesn't mean we are angels and everyone else is the devil. It is for everybody."

Wenger maintains there is no point in continuing to debate the issue.

"I believe that on our side we have made one decision to support Aaron Ramsey as much as we can and then continue to promote the values that are important for the club and football," he said.

"All the rest is to go into unneeded controversy. I don't see how that can help football or Aaron Ramsey.

"It is important to focus on the future, help Aaron Ramsey and let people talk."


Benitez expects deals for duo

Mascherano and Reina set to sign before the end of the season

Benitez expects deals for duo

Benitez: Talks are ongoing

Everything is very close. I think we will have news about Reina and Mascherano very soon

Rafa Benitez
Quotes of the week

    Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez has revealed that he expects Javier Mascherano and Jose Reina to sign new contracts before the end of the season.

    Midfielder Mascherano was understood to have held talks with Barcelona last summer and it had been rumoured that a deal was in place which would see him join the Spanish and European champions at the end of this campaign.

    Reina has been involved in ongoing discussions with Liverpool's hierarchy for a number of months, but it was recently speculated that the goalkeeper was unhappy with his club's disappointing form.

    Benitez, though, is confident Mascherano and Reina, who has arguably been the Reds' Player of the Season, will agree new deals within the next two months as negotiations continue.

    The Reds boss said of Argentina captain Mascherano: "I was talking with him and his agent the other day and it is true Javier is happier.

    "The conversations were very positive. When you talk with Javier he is very settled and happy.


    "Everyone knew about some clubs (being interested in him) but talking with us he was fine."

    Asked if a deal would be struck before the end of the season, Benitez added: "I think so."

    The Spaniard, who takes his team to Wigan in the Premier League on Monday, also said that Reina's commitment to a new deal was not in doubt.

    "Pepe (Reina) is another key player and it is 100% he will continue with us," Benitez said.

    "Everything is very close. I think we will have news about Reina and Mascherano very soon."

    Mascherano was thought to want to move to Barcelona in order to link up with his close friend and compatriot Lionel Messi, while Reina's superb form has seen him be linked to a number of top clubs around Europe.


    Owen out for the season

    Striker's slender World Cup hopes dashed

    Owen out for the season

    Owen: Out for the season

    I think the heavy pitch at Wembley on Sunday made some contribution to it but really it is just bad luck.

    Michael Owen has been ruled out for the rest of the season, ending any slender hopes he had of making England's World Cup squad.

    The Manchester United striker suffered a hamstring injury during Sunday's Carling Cup final victory over Aston Villa.

    Owen was surprisingly handed a starting role ahead of in-form Wayne Rooney at Wembley and vindicated Sir Alex Ferguson's decision by scoring a well-taken equaliser.

    But the former Liverpool, Real Madrid and Newcastle forward pulled up during the first half on the heavy pitch and limped out of the action to be replaced by Rooney, with the substitute heading the winner in the second half.

    Scans have now revealed that the hamstring problem sustained by the 30-year-old will keep him out of action for the remainder of the campaign and he will undergo an operation on Monday.

    Owen was always a long-shot to secure a place in England manager Fabio Capello's squad having been regularly overlooked since the Italian took charge.

    But his return of 40 goals from 89 international appearances ensured that the debate over his inclusion for the tournament in South Africa would not go away.

    Capello's policy of selecting players who were in action regularly and in form counted against Owen, who has struggled for regular starts at Old Trafford since his arrival on a free transfer in the summer.

    Terrible blow

    And this latest setback means that the striker, who was an integral part of England's forward line in the past three World Cup finals, will not be involved in a fourth.

    "It's a bad blow - he's out for the season," Ferguson said. "Unfortunately it's more serious than we thought. He will be operated on on Monday morning.

    "It's a terrible blow for the lad and is disappointing news for us too.

    "He has never missed a training session all season.

    "I think the heavy pitch at Wembley on Sunday made some contribution to it but really it is just bad luck."

    Owen has made 31 appearances for the Red Devils this season, scoring nine goals from 11 starts, with 20 of his outings coming from the bench.


    Ferguson must now plan without the experienced frontman as he targets further glory in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League.

    Although Owen did not mention the World Cup, he is now looking forward to the start of next season.

    "Unfortunately the specialist says I will miss the end of the season," said Owen.

    "I have loved every minute of my first campaign with Manchester United and have already enjoyed some memorable moments.

    "I am determined to come back at the start of next season in peak condition."


    Fulham pair scoop awards

    Cottagers duo claim gongs after positive February

    Fulham pair scoop awards

    Schwarzer: Player of the month

      Fulham manager Roy Hodgson and goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer have been named the Premier League's manager and player of the month for February respectively.

      The Cottagers ended the month with three wins and two draws in a spell that saw Schwarzer only let in one goal.

      Fulham are currently in the top half of the Premier League and are also set to face Juventus after disposing of Shakhtar Donetsk in the Europa League.

      It is the fourth time Hodgson has won the Manager of the Month award, and the second time this season.

      But Australian keeper Schwarzer has never managed to scoop the Player of the Month gong before, despite 13 seasons in the English top flight.

      Meanwhile, Premier League sponsors Barclays have announced that they will donate £1,000 to charity for every goal scored in the league and an extra £500 for every shot on target during the weekend of 19th-21st March, with all the funds going to Sport Relief.

      Tottenham striker Jermain Defoe praised the initiative. "I think this is a great idea," he said.

      "All the players will be looking to score those prized goals and it should prove to be an excellent weekend for the Barclays Premier League and Sport Relief."


      O'Neill - Dowd made up rules

      Villa boss launches new attack on Carling Cup referee

      O'Neill - Dowd made up rules

      O'Neill: Dowd blast

      The referee is there to administer the laws of the game, not to decide at that minute to make up some rules. And that's what Phil did, made them up just as he went along.

      Martin O'Neill.
      Quotes of the week

        Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill has launched a new attack on referee Phil Dowd over his Carling Cup final display.

        O'Neill, and most observers, were left stunned by the official's decision to allow Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic to remain on the field after he had hauled down Gabriel Agbonlahor in the area.

        Dowd pointed to the penalty spot in only the fourth minute at Wembley after Vidic's offence, but issued no further punishment to the centre-back.

        United went on to hit back and win the game 2-1 through goals from Michael Owen and substitute Wayne Rooney, but O'Neill is adamant they should have been down to 10 men from the opening moments.

        If Dowd felt Vidic was denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, then he should have issued a red card to the Serbia international, which the Villa boss insists was the only option available under the rules of the game.

        "The decision as it stood on Sunday was that it was a straightforward decision, it was a penalty kick and a sending off offence," O'Neill said onSky Sports News.

        Ga-ga moment

        "The referee is there to administer the laws of the game, not to decide at that minute to make up some rules. And that's what Phil did, made them up just as he went along.

        "This idea that it is to try and do your best to keep 22 players on the pitch - if players behave themselves then you will keep 22 players on the pitch.

        "That is, unless the referee decides to have another ga-ga moment, or something along the way. It was ridiculous."

        O'Neill was also less than impressed with the state of the Wembley pitch, which was cutting up badly after heavy rain in the London area.

        Several players involved in the final have complained about the surface, while it also came under fire following England's victory over Egypt on Wednesday.

        He added: "It was very poor. For a showpiece occasion at Wembley it was very poor.

        "It looked as though they had played about 35 games on it in the previous week. Very poor indeed."


        Premier League preview

        United and Arsenal look to take advantage

        Premier League preview

        Fergie: Looking for top spot

          Manchester United will return to the top of the Premier League table this weekend if they avoid defeat at Wolves, as leaders Chelsea are in FA Cup action.

          There are just four games in the Premier League this weekend due to the cup quarter-finals, but there is still big interest at both ends of the table.

          Despite being in Carling Cup final action last weekend, United's title hopes were bolstered as Chelsea succumbed at home to Manchester City.

          Now United, just a point adrift of Carlo Ancelotti's men, can go top if they avoid defeat at Wolves on Saturday as Chelsea have an inferior goal-difference.

          With Chelsea not playing Arsenal will also have their sights set on moving up the table.

          For Arsene Wenger's men to reach the summit this weekend they would need United to lose and they would have to beat Burnley by four or more goals at Emirates Stadium.

          The other game on Saturday sees a big clash at the other end of the table with West Hamentertaining Bolton at Upton Park.

          Victory for the Hammers would see them go six points clear of the bottom three, while Bolton, who are just a point below West Ham, will also be anxious to push away from the drop zone.

          The Super Sunday clash this week sees Evertonhost Hull City at Goodison Park.

          The Toffees know a win will see them move back into the top eight, but a point for the Tigers could be enough to lift them out of the bottom three.


          FA Cup preview

          Chelsea host Stoke; Tottenham travel to Fulham

          FA Cup preview

          Hodgson: Intriguing tie

          Click below for individual match stats and previews:
          Portsmouth v Birmingham
          Fulham v Tottenham
          Reading v Aston Villa
          Chelsea v Stoke

            The FA Cup quarter-finals arrive this weekend as eight teams bid to move a step closer to winning the competition.

            With traditional Big Four members Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United having already been eliminated, hopes are high among the remaining sides.

            Holders Chelsea are the only side left of the supposed Premier League heavyweights, while top-flight Tottenham, Aston Villa, Birmingham, Fulham, Stoke and Portsmouth are also still standing.

            Championship outfit Reading are the only team still flying the flag for the Football League after causing a number of upsets on their journey to the quarter-finals.

            Crisis-club Portsmouth, who defeated rivals Southampton in the fifth round, welcomeBirmingham to Fratton Park on Saturday lunchtime to kick-off proceedings and the South Coast club will want some more welcome relief.

            Pompey, tournament winners in 2008, have been immersed in misery this season as they prop up the Premier League and they have entered administration, while Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is still knocking at the door.

            In contrast, Birmingham have enjoyed an excellent campaign and Alex McLeish's men are still in contention for a Europa League spot at the same time as pursuing a place in the semi-finals.

            London rivals Fulham and Tottenham meet at Craven Cottage on Saturday evening for possibly the most intriguing contest of the round.

            Roy Hodgson's Cottagers are desperate for a first FA Cup in their history, but they will have their work cut out against Harry Redknapp's UEFA Champions League hopefuls.

            Reading have claimed the title of this season's shock specialists as Brian McDermott's second-tier strugglers have scalped Liverpool, Burnley and West Brom to leave them relatively undaunted by the arrival of Aston Villa.

            Martin O'Neill's Villa, though, will be in a determined mood after last weekend's Carling Cup final defeat to Manchester United.

            Premier League leaders Chelsea's clash with Stoke, conquerors of mega-rich Manchester City in the last round, at Stamford Bridge completes the round as the Potters bid to end the Blues' defence of the cup.


            Milner out to lift curse

            Midfield star determined to help Villa to a victory in March

            Milner out to lift curse

            Milner: Unaware of freak record

              James Milner is hoping to help Aston Villa break their March hoodoo and remain in the hunt for a top-four finish.

              The England international is also keen to see Villa take another positive step en route to a second cup final, with the FA Cup offering an ideal opportunity to make amends for the Carling Cup heartache suffered against Manchester United.

              Villa must, however, break a freak curse if they are to prevail in their efforts to return to Wembley and secure UEFA Champions League qualification.

              Remarkably, the club have failed to win a single fixture in March since 2006, with the incredible run stretching back 16 games.

              Milner has only been around for a handful of those matches, and admits he was unaware of the record, but he is adamant that Villa can break that alarming habit this term.


              He told the Birmingham Mail: "I wasn't really aware of this March thing. It's down to us to put that right. I don't know what's gone on in previous years and I can only really comment on last year.

              "I don't know whether it's psychological or physical or what. Maybe it was fatigue last year, who knows?

              "If you finish the season disappointingly like we did, the important thing is to learn from it so it doesn't happen again.

              "We've played well recently. I don't know how many it is unbeaten in the league (six), but we're on a good run and it's down to us to keep that going."

              Milner admits March will be a 'massive month' for Villa this year, with a favourable run of fixtures seeing them face Reading in the FA Cup and Wigan, Wolves and Chelsea in the league.


              "It's a massive month," he added.

              "We've got a fairly good run-in, but every game in the Premier League is tough.

              "We've been playing well so that's the main thing. It's down to us to keep the form going and take it a game at a time.

              "First things first, we'll see if we can get through in the FA Cup, which again will be tough because Reading have been playing so well.

              "We've got a lot of quality in the squad, we've got fresh legs ready to come in and competition for places as well. There's players knocking on the door and you've got to perform well to stay in the team."


              McCarthy all for Rooney absence

              Boss dreading deadly striker as sides meet on Saturday

              McCarthy all for Rooney absence

              McCarthy: Test against the champions

                Wolves boss Mick McCarthy admits he hopes not to come across in-form Wayne Rooney at Molineux on Saturday.

                The Manchester United striker is a doubt ahead of the meeting between the two sides after playing 90 minutes in England's friendly with Egypt in midweek.

                United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has hinted he may be forced to rest his main man, despite his 23 Premier League goals so far this season helping them challenge for a fourth consecutive title.

                McCarthy holds the 24-year-old in high regard and he admits his side would benefit from Rooney not being involved in the meeting.

                "I would prefer him not to play and to be left at home in Manchester," admitted McCarthy.

                "In my opinion he is brilliant. The goal that he scored recently against Arsenal epitomised him. He is world class. He is the complete player. I just love his attitude.

                "He plays like he is playing in the school playground. He has matured and has got better and better and he is red hot at the moment."

                Last time the two sides met, McCarthy infamously picked a weakened side at Old Trafford in a bid to avoid his first team suffering a confidence knock ahead of a 3-0 defeat.


                McCarthy was later fined for the unsporting move, but he insists home advantage this time around means there will be no lying down.

                "We will be going for it to try and win the game. Do United have one banana skin in a season? It may well be here.

                "The fans don't come to see us lose whoever we play against. Only recently we drew with Liverpool, beat Tottenham and played very well against Chelsea when we should have got something from the game.

                "We are capable of getting a result and we are looking forward to it. It is a daunting task with the position that we are in but we wanted to be in with the big boys and it is a big, exciting game for us.

                "It is a big ask playing against Manchester United at any time but I feel we are in good shape and have been playing well.

                "Anything we get out of this game we will have to work hard for. But we have to believe we can get something. We won't be negative.

                "If we can keep playing as we have been then we will have more than enough chances of staying in this league."

                McCarthy also admits his admiration for his opposite number Ferguson, but revealed the Scot's long list of honours is not the only reason people look up to him.

                "Everyone respects Sir Alex for the trophies he has won but for me it goes a bit deeper than that," revealed McCarthy.

                "He also looks after young managers and I remember that when I was starting out at Millwall I got the best wishes from Sir Alex.

                "He has got a lot of time for managers who are starting out and to still have the desire he has is something else."


                O'Hara holds Spurs hope

                Midfielder still keen to make his mark at White Hart Lane

                O'Hara holds Spurs hope

                O'Hara: Tottenham fan

                  Jamie O'Hara admits he is still hoping to resurrect his career at boyhood idols Tottenham Hotspur.

                  The midfielder has spent the vast majority of the 2009/10 campaign on loan at struggling Portsmouth, after slipping down the pecking order at White Hart Lane.

                  He has been a rare plus point for the struggling South Coast club this season, with a number of impressive displays helping to strengthen his reputation.

                  It remains to be seen what the future holds for the combative 23-year-old, with competition at Spurs as fierce as ever, but O'Hara has revealed that he will sit down with Harry Redknapp over the summer before deciding on his next move.

                  He said: "I'm a Spurs player on loan at Portsmouth. I have had a fantastic time, the Portsmouth fans have been absolutely brilliant with me and everyone at the club, I have really enjoyed it. But I will be going back to Tottenham in the summer.

                  "Tottenham's a fantastic club and any person in the Premier League would love to play for Tottenham. I'm a Tottenham fan and I have loved playing for Tottenham every time I have put the shirt on, but I will have to sit down in the summer and have a chat with the gaffer and see what he wants from me.

                  "If he feels it is time for me to move on hopefully I have done enough this season for a few clubs to be interested."


                  Meanwhile, Pompey boss Avram Grant has expressed his disappointment at the ongoing troubles at Fratton Park.

                  The club have become the first in Premier League history to enter administration, virtually condemning them to relegation, but Grant feels the authorities are wrong to punish the current set-up for the ill-discipline of former owners.

                  "I have said my opinion and I will say it again - I respect the rules, everybody has to respect the rules, but there is something illogical about this," said the Israeli coach.

                  "The logic needs to see that if someone here did something wrong, the people here do not deserve to be victims - not the fans, not the staff, not the players."


                  Wawrinka stuns holders

                  Spain suffer early defeat; Russia and France edge ahead

                  Wawrinka stuns holders

                  Wawrinka: Impressive win

                    Defending Davis Cup champions Spain suffered the worst possible start to their title defence with defeat in the first rubber of their World Group tie against Switzerland.

                    Neither world number one Roger Federer nor great rival Rafael Nadal are on duty for their respective nations, so the tie began with a clash between the world numbers 40 and 19.

                    And it was the higher-ranked player, Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka, who came out on top in a marathon encounter in Logrono, beating Nicolas Almagro 3-6 6-4 3-6 7-5 6-3.

                    It was an impressive effort from Wawrinka, who had not played a competitive match in six weeks following the birth of his daughter.

                    Elsewhere, Russia stormed into a 2-0 lead after the first day's singles matches to move on the brink of victory against India in Moscow.

                    First, Igor Kunitsyn came from a set down to beat Somdev Devvarman 6-7 (6-8) 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 6-4.

                    "It was an exciting match," Kunitsyn, ranked 107, told www.daviscup.com.


                    "It's the first time I ever opened a Davis Cup tie for Russia, the first time I ever played a live singles match, it was a day of firsts for me."

                    Mikhail Youzhny then showed his class in a 6-4 6-2 6-3 demolition of Rohan Bopanna.

                    The Czech Republic also lead 2-0 after Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek romped to straight-sets victories over Belgian duo Olivier Rochus and Xavier Malisse respectively.

                    Another appetising encounter, between France and Germany, saw Gael Monfils secure his first ever Davis Cup victory with a convincing 6-1 6-4 7-6 (7-5) win over Philipp Kohlschreiber.

                    It was then left up to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to extend France's lead to 2-0, which he did, courtesy of a 6-3 6-2 6-7 (2-7) triumph over Benjamin Becker

                    Life was tougher for big-serving Croatian Ivo Karlovic, though, who needed three hours and 45 minutes to overcome Ecuador's Nicolas Lapentti 6-2 5-7 6-7 (2-7) 6-3 6-4 in Varazdin.


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