Wenger: Robben ‘made a lot of’ Szczesny contact; penalty ‘killed the game’

5 Comments

The replay seemed clear, though in Arsène Wenger’s defense, he eventually confessed that he still needed to “see [the play] again.” But after his team’s 2-0 loss to Bayern Munich, that didn’t stop the Arsenal boss from claiming München attacker Arjen Robben “made more of [the contact]” he received from Wojciech Szczesny in Wednesday’s 37th minute. The Arsenal goalkeeper was shown a straight red card, leaving the Gunners to play with 10 men for 53 minutes in their UEFA Champions League defeat.

The incident occurred when Bayern midfielder Toni Kroos, from the middle of his attacking half, lofted a ball over the Arsenal defense, sending Robben in alone on Szczesny. The Arsenal keeper came out to try and beat Robben to the ball, but when the Dutch international played a touch past the challenge and toward goal, Szczesny’s outstretched leg brought him down, denying the attacker a goal scoring opportunity.

Wenger, speaking post-match, claimed Robben embellished the Szczesny’s contact, which wouldn’t have justified a sending off in every league.

“I think the rules are different in every country,” Wenger said, asked about the sending off. “Our‘keeper went for the ball but he touched Robben, who certainly made more of it. That’s what I told [Robben].

“[The call] killed the game. The game was top quality until then, in the second half it was boring. It was one way traffic. The referee made the decision that killed the game.”

Wenger stopped short of describing Robben’s act with the d-word, but when asked if he was accusing the Bayern attacker of diving, he did everything but stamp the label on Bayern’s entire squad.

“[Robben] has enough experience to know to make more of it,” Wenger said of Robben. “Overall, Bayern made a lot of every single contact. We are not used to that in England.”

What they are used to in England (and everywhere else in the world) is managers seeing games from a very partisan perspective – a view so biased that coaches see what you want rather than what actually happened. Given license to say whatever they feel in the wake of a disappointing loss, managers are allowed to discard perspective and balance and indulge their most jaded, often conspiratorial fantasies. At least this time, the manager in question stopped short of saying the officials were actively working against him.

Perhaps Robben did exaggerate the effect of Szczesny’s contact, but it’s too much to imply a goalkeeper tripping an attacker moving in on goal would be called differently in other countries. There is, after all, a reason Szczesny left the field with almost no protest, with more disappointment than surprise when he was shown the red card. If Wenger is imagining a world where such plays don’t end with a whistle, he may also be imagining a world where his post-match comments don’t sound embittered by his goalkeeper’s error.

To Wenger’s credit, he did concede Szczesny may have been culpable, albeit slightly.

“The regret I have tonight, Wojiech misjudged the situation, maybe,” Wenger said, before going on to address the sanction. “It was no clear desire to make a foul.  It completely killed the game.

“I feel frustrated. It was a great football game until half time, and it was no game at all after half time. On a European night it was very frustrating.”

Equally frustrating: The implication that certain games should have a different set of rules than others. That’s what Wenger is implying when he suggests the quality of the play and the Champions League occasion should have been part of the decision-making process. Though he doesn’t come straight out and say it, that’s always the subtext when managers try to add circumstance and the game’s flow to the list of factors a referee should consider.

Overall, the press conference comes off as whining, which is understandable. Perhaps other managers would handle themselves differently, but it’s no mystery why a man who saw his team perform well for 37 minutes feels bitter after his goalkeeper’s momentary lapse. That lapse has his team down two and on the brink of elimination from Champions League.

Reporting from Joe Prince-Wright contributed to this post.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza
Leave a comment

Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
Leave a comment

“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”