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Wenger "surprised" by Benitez's Fergie blast

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger tonight expressed his "surprise'' after Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez claimed his Manchester United counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson had openly criticised referees and got away with it.

The Reds boss hit out yesterday at what he saw as Ferguson's complete ignorance of the Football Association's 'Respect' campaign towards officials, and complaints by the United boss about the Premier League fixture list.

Wenger admitted it was a shock to hear the usually composed and reserved Benitez say such things but insisted he did not expect it would have any bearing on the race for the Premier League title.

"It came as a complete surprise, because he is usually a quiet man and I would not like to comment further on that. I do not know what it was really about,'' the Gunners boss said after his side's 1-0 win over Bolton.

"I do not know what he [Ferguson] is doing - you do not know either, nobody knows in the country!

"But if Alex Ferguson, or Benitez or I do something which is not right, you have people around the referees who can make reports.

"I believe it is important we focus on the game, if we see something abnormal we can say it, which I did at Aston Villa after the game (when Wenger claimed referee Lee Mason was influenced after being given 'stick' by Villa staff).

"But apart from that, I couldn't see any deep problem there with English football.

"It is hard to determine what influence this will have on the results of the teams.''

Ferguson has unsettled his rivals in the past, with Newcastle boss Kevin Keegan launching into a finger-pointing tirade after the Scot made remarks about his team in the 1995-96 title race, with some observers suggesting the Magpies lost the championship the moment Keegan lost his temper. Wenger, however, does not believe that was the case.

"There was a famous story with Keegan and Ferguson, where in the end they said that moment where Keegan lost his nerves, that lost the championship - but I am not convinced,'' he said.

"I think it was more their defensive frailty which cost them the title that year, not the manager losing his calm.

"However, it will certainly have an impact on (Benitez and Ferguson's) relationship, but not on Ferguson.''

During his pre-match press conference yesterday, Benitez said: "We had a meeting in Manchester with managers and the Football Association about the 'Respect' campaign.

"And I was very clear, forget the campaign because Mr Ferguson was killing the referees, killing Mr (Martin) Atkinson, killing Mr (Keith) Hackett.

"All managers need to know is that only Mr Ferguson can talk about the fixtures, can talk about referees and nothing happens.

"We need to know that I am talking about facts, not my impression. There are things that everyone can see every single week.''


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