Arsene Wenger has warned his players to be wary of Wayne Rooney's gamesmanship in tomorrow's Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium.
The Arsenal manager has not forgiven Rooney for diving to win a penalty in the game that brought the so-called Invincibles' 49-match unbeaten Premier League run to an end a little more than five years ago, but conceded that the England striker did merit the penalty he was awarded in United's win over his team at Old Trafford last August.
Sol Campbell was adjudged to have fouled Rooney by Mike Riley, the referee, in that memorable encounter in October 2004 and is likely to be charged with marking his former England team-mate tomorrow. The 35-year-old is in line to start his first Premier League game for Arsenal for four years because Thomas Vermaelen is struggling with a leg injury.
Wenger is confident that Campbell can cope with his surprise return to the highest level, but concedes that it will be difficult to shackle Rooney, whom he believes would thrive if he left United for a foreign club.
"You know how strikers are, there is no angel," Wenger said. "They play a game. You have two games, one with the opponent and one with the rules and the referee, and you try and extend that to your advantage. Sometimes you go a little bit over the limit but that is part of the game of a striker. The first penalty at Old Trafford (in 2004), I don't agree with it. For the first one Sol Campbell did not touch him at all. We have to fight against that, but the strikers try always to do that.
"If you look at the penalty at Old Trafford this season you cannot say it is not a penalty because (Manuel) Almunia really goes for it. The ball was out and Rooney took advantage of the fact Almunia had already dived. There is a border between intelligence and starting to cheat.
"I think Rooney can play abroad as he has all the ingredients of a modern player. Something you would not question is the talent of Rooney but that does not mean he will make the difference tomorrow." United's 2-1 win last August was overshadowed by Wenger's statement that the combative style of Darren Fletcher was "anti-football", comments that provoked a strong response from Alex Ferguson.
"That's where Arsene lets himself down really," the United manager said. "Everyone knows that Darren is not a dirty player, not a physical player, he's not built that way, but he can win the ball because his timing and energy to get to the ball is fantastic.
"You can't call that a fault. That's a great part of the game, being able to tackle properly and he does tackle properly. It's disappointing, but I don't think Wenger really believes that."
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