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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Nov 6, 2007

Wenger hits back at Fergie in foreign players row

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has again defended his right to field players based on ability and not passports in the wake of fresh criticism from Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson. FIFA president Sepp Blatter intends to lobby for restrictions on the number of foreign players in each team. Currently, however, the European Union states such quotas would breach laws on employment and free movement of labour. Nevertheless, the leader of the sport's world governing body believes that stance should be challenged 'to protect the national identity of the football clubs', and it is a notion which has drawn support from United manager Ferguson. The Scot believes Premier League clubs should be seen to have 'a proportion of home-based players' - and feels cosmopolitan rivals Arsenal would 'protest the loudest' at such a rule. French coach Wenger has often been criticised for a lack of English talent in his first team. But it is a policy which continues to serve the Gunners well, with Wenger's men currently top of the table following Saturday's 2-2 draw with United at Emirates Stadium and with a 100% record in the Champions League. The Arsenal manager was quick to defend his club's stance, and also questioned the remarks made by his rival at Old Trafford - who has spent millions recruiting overseas talent such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and Anderson. 'It is not very nice to his own foreign players, first of all,' Wenger told reporters at Luton Airport this afternoon ahead of tomorrow's Champions League clash with Slavia Prague in the Czech Republic. 'I would not be very happy if I was a foreign player at Man United. 'I feel it is down to quality. 'If you look at the investments of Man Utd this year, they have invested a lot of money in foreign players.' Wenger quipped: 'For the rest, I am ready to take the blame for all the problems of English football.' The Arsenal manager, though, sees no reason for the current regulations to be altered. 'I always felt that sport rewards quality and does not hide behind artificial rules,' he said. 'If you put the level of the class down, it does not necessarily make the bad students better. It makes them worse. 'You can say as well to compete with the best players in the world is a chance to improve your level. 'In Europe, we are very rigid and difficult to move forwards because we are all countries and are a bit conservative.' Wenger insisted the influx of foreigners into the Premier League was merely a reflection of the modern world at large. He reflected: 'If you organise a golf tournament, people go to watch Tiger Woods, whether that is in Scotland or anywhere else. 'When you go to Wimbledon, you want to see Federer. That is what people demand today. 'The world has moved on. People demand to see the best in the world and you cannot get them to watch a level down anymore. 'The real question is how can England take the opportunity to produce world-class players?' Wenger has every faith in his multicultural and depleted Arsenal side and believes they can secure safe passage to the knock-out stages of the Champions League in Prague tomorrow night. Star midfielder Cesc Fabregas - with 11 goals so far this season - and attack-minded Alexander Hleb were both absent when the Gunners squad left Luton Airport for the Czech Republic. Defender Kolo Toure and midfielder Tomas Rosicky, with a fresh groin problem, were absent through injury but Wenger elected to give two of his most consistent performers a complete rest. 'It is always a gamble whatever decisions you make, but I trust the players I take,' he said. 'Gilberto will play. He is captain of the Brazilian national team, you cannot say he is a big gamble. 'For me it does not change because we leave Fabregas at home that we cannot win the game.' The Arsenal manager, though, felt he had little option other than to give players a breather, with the hectic festive schedule approaching. 'Cesc has nearly played every single minute since the start of the season,' said Wenger. 'If you get him injured, it's three or four games out. If you can give him a breather at some stage it is not too bad. 'We have a big enough squad to give the players a rest when it is needed, and so can cope without a winter break. 'Players who play abroad sometimes have the Christmas period to go home, but here in England they like to keep Christmas going and to have a break after. 'Let's not be stupid, we cannot go down to 18 in the league and you do not have less games than before, you always have more. 'But at the moment there is still a reasonable break in the summer.'

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