How the Premier League teams prepare for weekend
Arsene Wenger has refuted his Uefa charge for improper conduct in the fallout from Arsenal's Champions League defeat to Barcelona after he confronted the referee for controversially sending off striker Robin van Persie. Speaking yesterday, Wenger said: "I deny completely any charge. It would be good for Uefa to show some humility, to apologise for what has happened, not charge people who have done nothing wrong." Wenger revealed that Cesc Fabregas, the Arsenal captain, will miss tomorrow's FA Cup quarter-final trip to Manchester United.
Ciaran Clark, the Villa left-back, believes his side are playing well enough to stay up, despite being just two points above the relegation zone. "I think everyone can see that," he told the Express and Star. "The way we played against Bolton (a 3-2 defeat last week) was as good as we have played all season with the amount of chances we created. It is about taking those chances and trying to stay positive. We have a big game against Wolves coming up and we'll concentrate on that. It has been tight all season. Two wins and you can jump up the table."
Alex McLeish, the Birmingham manager, is likely to make changes to his battle-weary squad for tomorrow's FA Cup tie with Bolton. "I have had enforced changes, five at the weekend there, changes again last night (Wednesday's 1-1 draw at Everton)," McLeish said in the Birmingham Mail. "It wasn't the same team that played in the Carling Cup final over the last two games. I think definitely fatigue is playing a part. Some of these guys they want to train every single day, they want to play every single game. We have played in every game of every single competition thus far."
Steve Kean, the Blackburn manager, has given young defender Grant Hanley a moral boost following the 19-year-old's foul on Aaron Hughes that conceded a last-minute penalty against Fulham last week in a 3-2 defeat for Rovers. It was a harsh decision from referee Mark Clattenburg and Kean told the Lancashire Evening Telegraph: "He has played well, he is a good player and he is getting better week in and week out. To play against these type of strikers, he has dealt with it well. He has a bright future and it is a tough one for Grant. But we have to respect if the referee thinks he has got him in an aggressive manner."
Matt Gilks, the Blackpool goalkeeper could return to action this month after four months out with a broken kneecap. And with Richard Kingson struggling with the hamstring injury which forced him to leave the field in Monday's defeat by Chelsea, Gilks could play against Blackburn on Saturday week. Ian Holloway, the manager, told The Blackpool Gazette: "Matt has been working hard in training and hopefully he's not too far away now. The problem isn't the knee, it's the muscle in his leg which has wasted away while he's been doing nothing. But we've a bit of time before the Blackburn game and hopefully he will be back."
Kevin Davies, the Bolton captain, is hoping to cap his career by lifting the FA Cup. Bolton play Birmingham tomorrow and Davies believes their priority will be Premier League survival following their surprise 2-1 victory over Arsenal in the Carling Cup final. "They've won a cup already, so hopefully they'll let us have a go," the 33-year-old striker told The Bolton News. "But we know we'll have to earn it. We're on a good run, though, and it will be business as normal this week. We'll go down and give it a really good go. I'm the captain of the club, so to go down to Wembley and try and lift the cup is something massive for me."
Ashley Cole, the Chelsea full-back, will escape prosecution for shooting a work-placement student with an air gun at the club's training ground. Police sources said officers were "highly unlikely" to pursue investigations any further after contacting the Premier League club. Tom Cowan, 21, was accidentally hit by a pellet from a .22 air gun brought into the training ground by Cole on February 20, but the sports science student has no plans to press charges. The decision comes after Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea boss, angrily hit out at calls for Cole to be disciplined, adding: "What do we have to do now - kill him?"
Everton have confirmed that Mikel Arteta sustained a grade-two tear to his hamstring in Wednesday night's 1-1 draw with Birmingham. The midfielder had to be substituted within the first 10 minutes of the match at Goodison Park. The club are not yet able to give any further details about how long Arteta might be out for. It is the latest in a string of injury blows for David Moyes, the manager, who had handed Arteta the captaincy for the Birmingham game in the absence of Phil Neville, another hamstring victim. Tim Cahill has a foot complaint and Marouane Fellaini is out for the rest of the season with an ankle problem.
Mark Hughes, the Fulham manager, has warned Philippe Senderos not to expect to walk straight into the first team after six months out injured. Brede Hangeland and Aaron Hughes are the club's current centre-back pairing. "We're playing great in terms of our defensive work," Hughes told the Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle. "The partnership we have of Hangeland and Hughes are playing exceptionally well. Philippe's been out for along time and had a few setbacks. He's got a lot of experience. He understands you have to be professional and when the opportunity comes I would have no qualms putting him in the team."
Raul Meireles, Liverpool's Portuguese midfielder, has attributed his recent scoring spree - five goals since January - to the arrival of Kenny Dalglish as manager in place of Roy Hodgson. Meireles said the Scot's formation allows him to attack opposition teams more. "I always work very hard. It doesn't matter if I am scoring a lot of goals or not - the important thing is that I am contributing to the success of the team," the former Porto midfielder said. "The big, big difference for me is that at this moment under Kenny, I am playing in a different position on the pitch, so this is one of the main reasons for so many goals."
Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, has tried to put an end to speculation linking Mario Balotelli to a move away from the club. The 20-year-old striker joined City last summer from Inter Milan, but Italian newspaper reports claim AC Milan want to bring him back to Serie A. "Many people say he is leaving? The fact they continue writing about Milan being interested and that there is an agreement doesn't bother me. At Manchester City we don't sell our best players, we buy them," Mancini told Sportmediaset. City were playing Dynamo Kiev last night in the Europa League. They host Reading in the FA Cup on Sunday.
Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, says Arsenal have "rearranged the pecking order" to emerge as credible title challengers. Ferguson, speaking for the first time since the media blackout following Sunday's 3-1 defeat to Liverpool, said: "Last season they [Arsenal] faded around the February to March period to leave Chelsea and ourselves in a two-horse race that saw us pipped at the post by a point. I think most pundits expected to see something similar this season … But Arsene Wenger and his players have rearranged the pecking order somewhat to come storming through to lie in second place."
Alan Pardew, the Newcastle United manager, has played down hopes of a return from injury for Hatem Ben Arfa before the end of the season. The French winger, 24, joined Newcastle from the French side Marseille on a permanent basis in January after originally signing on loan. The midfielder broke his leg in October's 2-1 defeat by Manchester City after a tackle from Nigel de Jong. "He's still some way off, the most important thing is Hatem is 100 per cent when he plays," Pardew told the BBC. "I think that's going to be late April, early May, if then." Newcastle's next game is a trip to Stoke City on March 19.
Matthew Etherington has declared himself fit for Stoke City's FA Cup quarter-final against West Ham United on Sunday. The winger has made just two starts in the last seven games due to a back injury. "I have always suffered with my back, especially after games," he told Stoke's website. "It has always been stiff and sore, but recently it was getting progressively worse and we didn't really know what the reasons for that were. It was extremely worrying. But we have got to the bottom of it now. The medical team and the sports science side of the back room staff have been brilliant, and I am absolutely delighted to have sorted out."
Sunderland could have their captain Lee Cattermole back in action soon. Cattermole has been out of action since the end of December with a back problem. The prolonged absence was on the advice of doctors, as there were fears that the problem could develop into a stress fracture. Cattermole returned to training and Steve Bruce, the Sunderland manager, hopes to be able to select the midfielder soon. "He has a chance of being in the squad for the Liverpool game [on March 20]," Bruce told Sky Sports. "But then there is a fortnight before we play Manchester City so he will be ready to face City [on April 3]."
William Gallas has thanked Tottenham for giving him the chance to prove his doubters wrong after his move from Arsenal at the end of last season. He has since become a key part of the Spurs' defence. "When I signed, I just wanted to play football and show who I am," the Frenchman said. "Everybody judged me because I didn't have a good World Cup and I was criticised because I was injured last year. If I left Arsenal, it was for some reason. I won't say why now. The most important [thing] for me was to stay in London for my family and to play in the Champions League - Tottenham gave me that opportunity."
West Bromwich Albion
Roy Hodgson's arrival as manager has given the West Brom squad a fresh start, according to Nicky Shorey, the left-back. Players such as Abdoulaye Meite and Paul Scharner in particular have seen a return to form under Hodgson. "Some managers like different players," Shorey told the club website. "A new manager comes in and people get a chance which is nice to see. I think he Abou [Meite] has taken his chance so far. It is pleasing because he has always been a good part of the dressing room and the lads love him. Scharner has been immense for us. He is a warrior - and we need that especially at this stage of the season."
West Ham United
Jack Collison, West Ham's highly-rated Welsh midfielder, has spoken of his struggles to comeback from serious injury. Collison has been out since March 2010 with a knee problem and he said: "When you are out for a long time and are doing rehab, it is a lonely time. Everyone has been really good to me and you still feel part of the team, but you are often doing stuff on your own and can't just go and join the rest of them out there on the training pitch. To be moving forward in what I am doing training wise, and getting towards the goal of returning to play football again, is great."
Roberto Martinez, the Wigan manager, has the full support of his chairman Dave Whelan, despite the club propping up the Premier League table, four points from safety. Wigan have won just one of their last 11 outings. "I have complete and total faith in Roberto, and the stability of the club remains total," Whelan told the Wigan Observer. "I have complete confidence that he will turn it round. I couldn't criticise Roberto at all for the way we're playing or the application of the lads just now. We've got some very, very winnable matches coming up. I still think we can do it."
Wolverhampton Wanderers should have midfielders Stephen Hunt and David Jones back to full fitness in the coming days to boost their relegation fight. Hunt has been out for six weeks with a calf problem, while Jones returned to training yesterday after a knee injury ruled him out of Sunday's 3-3 draw with Tottenham. Wolves' next game is against Aston Villa on March 19. "I'm back running again and hopefully within the next week I'll be back training," Hunt told the Express and Star. "I feel as fresh as a daisy now and looking forward to being back."