Mark Hughes, the Fulham manager, has laughed off the claims of Arsene Wenger that Arsenal are the victims of a conspiracy to kick the Gunners out of the game. And to back up his point Hughes used Premier League statistics to reveal that Arsenal are the second most "dirty" team so far this season.
According to the statistics only Everton have conceded more fouls than Wenger's Arsenal thus far. "Has the game suddenly become more physical? Do certain teams target Arsenal? I don't really think so. And actually, according to some statistics that I have been shown, Arsenal are second at the top of the list in terms of the number of tackles or fouls that are given against a team. Apparently Everton are first," Hughes said.
"I don't think Arsenal are the worst. But it is an interesting stat isn't it? "Certainly I don't agree that Arsenal are such massive victims of physical intimidation because, let's be honest, the game has changed massively over the last few years in terms of its physicality. I do understand Arsene Wenger's view to a point given the serious injuries he's had to some of his players, so maybe that's shaped his view.
"But I just don't agree the game has become more physical. Quite the opposite in terms of when I was playing 15 or 20 years ago." Fulham travel north tomorrow to play Hughes's former club, Blackburn Rovers, whose manager Sam Allardyce yesterday lambasted Wenger for pursuing a media campaign to cement an idea that his free-flowing team are victims of a concerted attempt by opponents to bully them out of games.
While Hughes, who as player was one of the most belligerent strikers around, admits that Allardyce sets his team out to play in a certain disruptive way against bigger opposition so they can punch above their weight, he agrees that Arsenal have nothing to complain about. Hughes said : "Has there been an increase in the physical side of the game this season? I haven't noticed it yet. I don't think there's a real trend.
"Certain games will be more physical than others, that is the result of the opposition or styles of play clashing. "There hasn't been a marked difference in the physicality of the Premier League. Not that I've seen. No not at all. "I think maybe in times gone by teams that are not as technical and adept as the likes of say Arsenal would try and physically intimidate. "But that's been turned out of the game, to a certain extent, certainly from when I was playing, because of the way it's refereed and the cameras and everything.
"Nothing is missed anymore. The amount of physical intimidation you can give to opposition teams has lessened. "But I would say that certain types of tackle, which is a skill in itself, have been taken out of the game." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Blackburn v Fulham, tomorrow, 6pm, ADMC Sport 4 Grab your weekend pass to the Manchester United-Liverpool game
Kevin Davies of Bolton committed the most fouls last season - 103 Arsenal's "dirtiest" player was Alex Song, the Cameroon midfielder, who was 22nd in the list with 54 fouls, the same as Blackburn's worst offender Steven Nzonzi Fulham topped the disciplinary table as the cleanest team last season with just 46 yellows and one red card. Arsenal were third. Bottom were Sunderland (82 yellow, nine red) followed by Bolton