Premier League - Early Doors: Arsenal are not victims

Thu, 24 Feb 08:42:00 2011

Arsenal may have suffered injuries in their win over Stoke, but that shouldn't obscure the fact that their own disciplinary record is awful.

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It would be ironic if, after actually taking the Carling Cup seriously for once, Arsenal were forced to field a weakened side in this season's final.

But that could well be the case when the Gunners face Birmingham City at Wembley on Sunday after they were left licking their wounds following last night's 1-0 win over Stoke City.

While little blame can be attributed to the Potters for Cesc Fabregas limping off after just 14 minutes with a hamstring twinge, Dean Whitehead's clumsy tackle midway through the second half saw Theo Walcott leave on a stretcher.

Walcott's ankle injury definitely rules him out of Sunday's showpiece, while Fabregas joins Robin van Persie and Laurent Koscielny as a doubt for the Gunners as they bid to end their six-year wait for a trophy.

Fabregas said on Twitter: "I don't know if I'll make Sunday or not, but all I know is that from this moment to Sunday I won't sleep if it's necessary. I've waited too long to captain a final for Arsenal and I won't give up till the last second."

Quite how not sleeping for 72 hours is any fit way to prepare for a major final is anyone's guess, but there you go.

Arsene Wenger praised his players for their "focus, discipline and intelligence" as they rode out a rough night at the Emirates to move within a point of leaders Manchester United, who have a game in hand after they spent Wednesday night claiming an uninspiring goalless draw at Marseille in the Champions League.

"I think we have matured, certainly, because we won a game tonight when we were less creative and fluent, with intelligence and calm - and that is what has changed," said Wenger.

"One or two years ago we would have dropped points. Tonight they couldn't make mistakes. We must take a lot of credit because of that."

Wenger's carefully chosen words can easily be interpreted as meaning he is happy his team managed to toughen up and claim victory over their thuggish opponents.

He and his players like nothing more than to take the moral high ground over sides which prefer rough-and-tumble to tiki taka. Stoke are always cast as the antithesis to the Gunners, with Potters boss Tony Pulis playing Genghis Khan to Wenger's Ghandi.

This match came almost a year to the day since Aaron Ramsey's horrendous leg break at the Britannia Stadium, memory of which will only galvanise the view among Arsenal fans of their players' victim status.

Despite that, Stoke only committed one foul more than the Gunners last night (nine to eight), and a look at the disciplinary table is rather enlightening.

Arsenal are second-from-bottom in the ranking of the Premier League's fairest sides this season with a whopping 45 bookings and six sendings-off - five of them straight reds.

One of those was for new golden boy Jack Wilshere's terrible lunge on Birmingham's Nikola Zigic back in October, made in stoppage time with the Gunners winning. That record is the joint-most in the division along with those other notorious hatchet men, West Brom.

To put that into context, that's as many sending-offs in the league this season as Stoke, Blackburn and Wolves put together, and it could have been worse with Fabregas somehow escaping censure for his filthy challenge on Stephen Ward in November which saw the defender leave the Molineux pitch on a stretcher.

Still, it will take more than facts to rid Arsenal of their persecution complex.

Birmingham sit a proud third in the fair play table - behind Fulham and Blackpool - but that won't stop a disapproving chorus of tutting at the first sign of Barry Ferguson impeding Samir Nasri on Sunday.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "You'd like to think he's got every chance of playing against Wolves (on April 2). The Stoke game (March 19) is probably too soon for him." - After seeing Arsenal count their casualties following their clash with the Potters, Newcastle boss Alan Pardew is understandably cautious about Hatem Ben Arfa's long-awaited return.

FOREIGN VIEW: AWOL Roma striker Adriano was snapped shopping in Rio de Janeiro when he should have been training back in Italy. The 28-year-old striker had been allowed to return to Brazil to recover from a shoulder injury, but should have returned in time for new manager Vincenzo Montella's first training session on Tuesday. Roma are reported to have issued an ultimatum to the notorious party boy - report back today or be sacked.

DECORATING TIP OF THE DAY: Results not going your way? Why not paint your goalposts in lamb's blood? That's what Bulgarian side Lokomotiv Plovdiv have done after sacrificing an animal in the hope that it will help improve their results.

COMING UP: Four doses of live Europa League action for you this evening: follow coverage of Sporting Lisbon v Rangers and Liverpool v Sparta Prague at 18:00, then Manchester City v Aris Saloniki and Villarreal v Napoli at 20:05.

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