Wenger appeals for calm ahead of Chelsea clash

December 15, 2007

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger maintains tomorrow's Barclays Premier League showdown between his leaders and title rivals Chelsea should be about the football and 'not war'.

The race for the championship is shaping up into a fascinating battle, with Manchester United travelling to Liverpool on 'Grand Slam Sunday'.

Both fixtures have generated plenty of hype. Red Devils boss Sir Alex Ferguson claimed 'if you are a lamb, you are dead' in the heat of such intense battles, and former Arsenal full-back Ashley Cole is sure to be in for a less than warm welcome from some sections of the Gunners faithful.

However, with outspoken Jose Mourinho no longer in charge of Chelsea, there has been no slanging match between the two rival coaching camps ahead of the Emirates Stadium showdown.

Wenger firmly believes coaches have an obligation not to add fuel to the flames ahead of what are often explosive encounters.

'The biggest responsibility we have as managers is before the game. We have to make sure that on Sunday we watch a football game and not war,' declared the Arsenal boss.

'The Football Association never take action on any vicious manager's words before a game.

'If I say 'I hope that our supporters launch a vicious attack on Ashley Cole because he deserves it' it might be popular - but that would prepare Sunday's game in a very bad atmosphere.

'So I believe I have a bigger responsibility before the game than after.

'Afterwards I can understand sometimes that a manager is unhappy or mad - but before the game you are not in that kind of mood and you have no excuse.'

Wenger was recently sent to the stands in a Champions League match and had to serve a one-match ban.

The French coach accepts he is no angel in the dugout, having more than his fair share of run-ins with the authorities.

However, the Arsenal boss maintains there is a line which must not be crossed by either supporters or those on the touchline.

'I hope there is no epidemic of crowd abuse because it will completely destroy football,' he said.

'I have taken a lot of abuse myself - but somewhere I came to the conclusion that it is part of my job to take that abuse.

'Once that gets out of control the sport is dead. That's what happening in Italy. It gets worse and worse.

'But on Sunday, the game has to be something that you have to be happy to go to.

'Once you get scared to take your children because its too aggressive and too much abuse you lose the taste for it.'

Wenger added: 'Personal abuse doesn't bother me.

'I feel that I am at a stage where it just glides over me because if I answer one I am finished - and if I answer a second one I might as well go into the stand and fight everybody.'

As part of the deal which took Cole to Stamford Bridge during August 2006, William Gallas moved in the opposite direction.

The French defender has since gone on to establish himself as the Gunners' new captain following the departure of Thierry Henry.

Wenger is in no doubt of the important role the 30-year-old plays within the emerging Arsenal squad.

'Gallas is key for me,' declared Wenger. 'He has taken his role as captain very seriously and is leading the team well on and off the field.

'I believe he has become very competitive compared to last year when he was injured a lot.'

Wenger added: 'I had no idea when he signed he could be captain, I had to discover him slowly.

'At the start it was not obvious for him. He had to adapt to a new club, but slowly he has done very well.'

Wenger believes the current battle at the top of the table can only be good for the strength of the domestic game.

The Arsenal manager said: 'This season would be most satisfying to win.

'The winner cannot say it was a bad year for anyone else because everyone is here after 15 games.'

Wenger reflected: 'It is a marathon, but we are all running on the same line.

'There are 20 miles still to go - and who knows who will be the winner.'