Sam Allardyce, the Blackburn manager, has accused Arsene Wenger of trying to influence referees to try and make Arsenal players untouchable. Wenger has again criticised heavy challenges on his players following an injury to Abou Diaby and hinted that some opponents have no intention of winning the ball. Allardyce, who has often clashed with Wenger in the past over the style of play adopted by teams he has managed, said the Frenchman had almost succeeded in influencing match officials.
He said: "Arsene has most of the media in his pocket now and is almost - almost - affecting the officials so that you can't tackle an Arsenal player. "That's something he's very clever at working on and it's almost working in his favour, you can see that. "Read his interview before the Stoke City v Aston Villa match, [Wenger accused two Stoke defenders of acting more like rugby players than footballers] what he said and how he said it - he's a very, very clever man in terms of influencing referees, officials and everybody in football.
"He can't be brought up for it because it's about another match - rather just before he plays us. There is a perception that we kick everybody and Arsenal's motivation is that you can't tackle us as you aren't supposed to. "In terms of saying people are trying to injure players he's trying to influence, through the media, the referees and that's something they shouldn't get sucked in to." Allardyce, whose team host Fulham tomorrow, insisted that although football remained a contact sport, the days of players trying to injure opponents was long gone.
He added: "He's deflecting attention from the situation which says the game of football is a contact sport. You have to try to win the ball at all costs and if someone doesn't get it quite right people get injured. "It was much more apparent in my day when people use to go out to try to hurt an opponent every week, but today it very rarely happens. "I completely deny that my team deliberately injures players, certainly not. In the Premier League the commitment and speed unfortunately brings players together at such pace that it's almost impossible to avoid injuries."
Newcastle United's Joey Barton has also launched a staunch defence of tackling, in response to Wenger' assertion that football has become too physical. "I don't know what has gone on at Arsenal or what their situation is, but it is a contact sport so there are going to be challenges made," the midfielder said. "I think the fans in England like to see challenges being made in a game. As long as it's fair, I don't think there is a problem. As long as the intention is to win the ball."
Meanwhile, Gael Clichy, the left-back, believes Cesc Fabregas, his Arsenal captain, will keep getting better and better. The Spain midfielder has gone from strength to strength since his return to action for the Gunners despite summer-long speculation linking him with a return to hometown club Barcelona. After playing a key role in the Gunners' victory over Bolton Wanderers at the weekend, the World Cup winner then went on the rampage against Braga in Wednesday night's Champions League opener, scoring twice and providing two assists as Arsenal ran out 6-0 winners at the Emirates Stadium. They next travel to Sunderland tomorrow night.
Clichy, who, like Fabregas, signed for the club in the summer of 2003, now expects even greater things from his captain as Arsenal look to bring their first piece of silverware to the club since 2005. "Can he get better? I think so," said the France left-back. "He is only 23 and the guy is already a world champion and European champion too so there is nothing more I can say about Cesc. "He showed last night and in the game before that he is the best and that he's an Arsenal player and he wants to win trophies for us."
Clichy added: "People were saying that after the summer that he may go somewhere else but he is showing everyone else that he is a great player and a true professional. "It's not easy to for him to forget what happened and I think he has shown everyone that once he is fit and is ready to play then he is one of the best so we're glad to have him and I hope he stays here for many years." * Press Association Sunderland v Arsenal, ADMC Sport 3 & 5,tomorrow, 8.30pm