Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, has finally acknowledged a contentious incident involving one of his players. Wenger apologised for a challenge by Cesc Fabregas which led to Stephen Ward, the Wolverhampton Wanderers defender, being carried off on a stretcher during the Gunners' 2-0 win on Wednesday. But true to form, Wenger said he did not witness the clash. "I have not seen the tackle yet but I have apologised to Mick McCarthy [the Wolves manager] if the player is injured." McCarthy said Fabregas also apologised to Ward and that Ward had accepted it.
It may seem strange but Gerard Houllier, the Aston Villa manager, will be hoping Manchester United name a full-strength team when the sides meet tomorrow. Houllier conceded he was concerned when Blackpool played a much-changed side midweek. "When I saw their team line-up I was worried because it happened to me twice," Houllier said. "Once I had to do it myself for a cup game and we won, and it happened also when I was at Liverpool and Sunderland came with a depleted team and they won." Villa's 3-2 victory ended a run of five league games without a win.
Alex McLeish, the Birmingham City manager, has warned his players to cut out individual errors ahead of their visit to Manchester City tomorrow. McLeish felt his side were victims of their own mistakes as a late goal saw Stoke City claim a 3-2 victory midweek. McLeish told the club's official website: "It was such a heartbreaking way for us to concede, very sloppy defending and unlike us. We've lost some uncharacteristic goals this season and it's been down to the kind of individual errors that we were either getting away with or not making last season.
Sam Allardyce is confident his Blackburn Rovers side are on the rise and is determined that they maintain their momentum against Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow. Blackburn won for the second time in a row with a 2-1 victory at Newcastle United on Wednesday and Allardyce said: "It's our first back-to-back wins. We finished 10th in the Premier League last year and only won three games away from home. We have already won two now - we have won at Blackpool and we have won here. It's our first back-to-back wins of the season, which is far quicker than we did last season," leading him to add: "so it shows that we are progressing."
The Premier League are investigating the decision by Ian Holloway, the Blackpool manager, to make 10 changes for the 3-2 defeat at Aston Villa midweek.
Holloway fielded an almost completely remodelled starting line-up ahead of the promoted side's clash with bottom club West Ham tomorrow. Holloway insisted his side was not weakened and that he had no choice because of the club's busy schedule. Asked what he would do if the Premier League imposes some form of punishment on his club, an angry Holloway said: "I'd pack it in. I can't work for this madness. I would resign. They do not know what they're talking about."
Wanderers fans have been stunned ahead of their match against Wolverhampton Wanderers tomorrow with Phil Garside, the club chairman, saying they could be forced to sell Gary Cahill and Johan Elmander in the transfer window to balance the books. Garside has also called for limits to be put on players' wages. He told Bloomberg: "Owners should be allowed to invest in equity. So if you, as an owner, want to buy a striker for £10 million (Dh59m) that shouldn't be a problem. But what you then can't do is pay him extortionate wages that take you out of the break-even situation. We are carrying too many on the wage bill."
Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea manager, is pinning his hopes on the fitness of Frank Lampard following Michael Essien's red card in a 1-0 victory over Fulham on Wednesday. Essien is facing a three-match ban unless Chelsea can successfully appeal against the dismissal. Lampard, out of action with hernia and tendon problems since the end of August, has begun training with the squad once more and Ancelotti is confident he will be fit enough to play against Sunderland on Sunday. "I think he'll be OK," Ancelotti said. "I hope he will be ready, not necessarily to play for 90 minutes but just to be involved in the squad.
The club will be bidding to extend their unbeaten run to eight matches against Arsenal on Sunday with added firepower in their side. David Moyes, the manager, was rich in his praise of Jermain Beckford, whose injury-time goal salvaged a 1-1 draw against Bolton Wanderers midweek in a game which saw Louis Saha make his first start since August, adding vibrancy to the Everton attack. But Everton will be missing the midfielder Marouane Fellaini this weekend. The Belgium international, returning after four games out, was shown a straight red card for kicking out at Bolton's Paul Robinson in frustration after a tackle.
Mark Hughes said he is not worried about Fulham's lack of victories and believes they have been playing well enough to be higher up the table. Fulham lost 1-0 to Chelsea on Wednesday but Hughes praised his side's performance ahead of tomorrow's match against Newcastle United. Fulham are 15th in the league but Hughes was buoyed by the way his side played against the champions. "We showed belief," Hughes said. "I'm pleased we responded in that second half. I've been to games here where teams have gone under very quickly because they didn't show the qualities needed. My team did show that quality."
Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool captain, said his team will be driven by a desire to extend their unbeaten run when they face Stoke City tomorrow. Liverpool were held 1-1 by Wigan Athletic on Wednesday after beating Chelsea last weekend. Gerrard told the Liverpool Echo: “After a fantastic win over Chelsea and having gone 1-0 up, of course we understand why people will be slightly disappointed. But we have kept our unbeaten run going, Fernando Torres has got another goal and there are other positives. I’m happy with my form. It’s going to be tough at Stoke but we will have to stand up and fight.”
Vincent Kompany believes Manchester City will soon be rattling in the goals and improve their prospects of a place in the Champions League next season. The Belgium defender insists there are positives from the 0-0 draw against Manchester United at midweek. City are four points clear of fifth-placed Newcastle and he said: “It puts us in a good place in the league. We are still very much in it and we will make sure we win against Birmingham [tomorrow]. We have a great possibility in this game. There is a four-point gap between us and our competitors for the Champions League spot. It is interesting.”
Sir Alex Ferguson could be without three more key men for Manchester United’s trip to Aston Villa on Saturday. Paul Scholes definitely misses the Villa Park encounter after collecting his fifth booking of the season in Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Manchester City. The former England star serves a one-match ban, while Ferguson has also ruled the defender Rafael out of his plans after he picked up a thigh injury. In addition, Patrice Evra was forced off with an ankle injury that will be assessed before Ferguson finds out what chance the Frenchman has of being involved against Gerard Houllier’s team. It does not look good.
Newcastle midfielder Joey Barton has been charged with violent conduct by the Football Association after allegedly punching Blackburn Rover’s Morten Gamst Pedersen. The 28-year-old has been charged by the FA after match referee Mike Jones viewed video evidence of the 50th-minute incident during Wednesday night’s 2-1 defeat for at St James’ Park. Barton’s fist appeared to make contact with Pedersen’s ribs in the aftermath of an incident inside the Newcastle penalty area as Rovers midfielder Junior Hoilett was being booked for diving. Newcastle face Fulham tomorrow.
Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, believes his proposed referee league table is a constructive solution to potential problems – but now intends to leave officials alone as his team prepare to face Liverpool tomorrow. Pulis has received plenty of coverage this week after calling for a promotion and relegation system for referees. He spoke out after what he felt was a series of bad decisions against his side over four consecutive Premier League games, all of which ended in defeat. “I have said what I have had to say about referees – I don’t want to talk about referees anymore,” Pulis said at a press conference yesterday.
Michael Turner expects Sunderland’s defence to be tested to the limit at Chelsea on Sunday as the club aim to keep up their unbeaten record against the Premier League’s top teams. Sunderland had to mount a rearguard action at Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday to claim a point, which – added to stalemates against Manchester United and Arsenal – means they have drawn against three of last season’s top four. “Chelsea are one of the best teams in the league and we’ll have to play like we did in the second half against Tottenham if we’re going to get anything from the game,” the defender told Chroniclelive.co.uk.
Daniel Levy, the Tottenham Hotspur chairman, believes the club are seeing the off-field rewards of their player investment after yesterday announcing record revenues of £119.8 million (Dh708.9m). Spurs also returned a £22.7m profit on operations excluding player trading. Levy said that figure has been boosted by the club’s improved fortunes last year when they finished fourth in the Premier League and qualified for the Champions League, and lucrative extra matches. “We are benefiting now from our investment to date in the first-team squad, Levy said. Spurs face Blackburn Rovers at White Hart Lane tomorrow.
West Bromwich Albion
Chris Brunt is on his way to becoming the assists king of the Premier League. Brunt has now played a hand in almost half of West Brom’s 16 league goals this term, with his six assists putting him joint second on the list – just two behind Manchester United’s Nani. The latest came when Pablo Ibanez powered home the Northern Ireland international’s pin-point cross in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw at West Ham to earn a valuable point. “It’s always nice when people get on the end of crosses,” Brunt said on the club’s official website. The provider will be hoping his run continues when Albion take on Wigan Athletic tomorrow.
West Ham United
Avram Grant continues to insist that West Ham will soon start to climb the Premier League table – once they finally secure another victory. The Hammers remain rooted to the foot of the table following Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with West Brom, which stretched their winless run to six league games. They face Blackpool at Upton Park tomorrow and the under-fire Grant said: “We are very close to it – when the first win comes, we will win more and we are playing football to win games. We keep our style of football. It is not going like we want, but we are playing well.”
Wigan will be on a high tomorrow when they entertain West Bromwich Albion following their 1-1 midweek draw with Liverpool. It has been a tough start to the season for Wigan and they are in the relegation zone with 11 points. But the draw will have lifted their spirits and Roberto Martinez, their manager, was delighted with the way they performed. Martinez said: “The first 15 minutes we were not in the game at all and we got heavily punished. But after that I was extremely pleased with the way we controlled the game, imposed ourselves and created chances.”
Mick McCarthy, the Wolves manager, says it is time for everyone to stop “whingeing” about tackles after his defender Stephen Ward suffered a gashed leg in a challenge by Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas on Wednesday. Said McCarthy: “It is one of those when two blokes are running at full tilt and you slide in and he has got a cut on his leg. Fabregas has apologised and Wardy has accepted it like a man and I wish everyone would stop whingeing about tackling and complaining. It wasn’t a bad tackle. I’ve no problem with it at all.” Wolves play Bolton tomorrow.