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Sunday 22 July 2018

Wenger's pop at Pep

English League Cup Final, Arsenal v Man City, Live tomorrow, Sky Sports, KO 4.30

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (left) and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: PA Wire
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (left) and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. Photo: PA Wire

Manchester City stars do not need to be afforded the extra protection called for by manager Pep Guardiola, according to Arsene Wenger.

Wenger's Arsenal meet City in tomorrow's League Cup final with Guardiola going in search of his first silverware in English football.

The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss has been left fuming on more than one occasion after seeing his players hit by a string of dangerous challenges in recent months.

Leroy Sane was forced off at Cardiff having been fouled by Joe Bennett, who was only cautioned but later offered an apology to the Germany international for what was a crude tackle.

Kevin De Bruyne received similar treatment from Jason Puncheon of Crystal Palace while youngster Brahim Diaz was hit by a knee-high challenge from West Brom's Matt Phillips - with both opposing players picking up bookings as a result.

Raheem Sterling. Photo: Martin Rickett
Raheem Sterling. Photo: Martin Rickett

Those decisions formed part of a letter which Manchester City sent to the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), the body responsible for referees, reporting a total of nine challenges they felt had not been sufficiently punished.

Guardiola spoke after Sane picked up an injury in the challenge from Bennett in an FA Cup tie last month and called for players to be better protected. But Wenger, whose Arsenal side meet City in Sunday's Carabao Cup final, believes officials must simply apply the letter of the law rather than offering any extra protection.

"I don't know what it means," he said when asked about Guardiola's comments.

"Protection yes, but we just want the referees to respect the rule book.

"It is all in the rules, we don't need any extra protection. You want the referees to make the right decision, that's all.

"Pep is maybe concerned by one or two situations where his players were tackled against Wigan on Monday night, which I can understand.

Aaron Ramsey. Photo: PA Wire
Aaron Ramsey. Photo: PA Wire

"But you don't want extra protection, you want protection and that is just by the referee making the right decisions in the situations."

Wenger has never won the League Cup but can complete a full set of major domestic honours, adding to his three Premier League titles and a record seven FA Cup triumphs, with victory this weekend.

Defeats in the 2007 and 2011 finals are the closest he has come to date but he is hoping it will be third time lucky tomorrow. "Look, when you get to a final, you want to win it," he said. "It's true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it's an opportunity. We'll play with all the regular players.

"We go to Wembley and you want to win it, you want your fans to go home happy."

Preparations for the final were not ideal as a much-changed Arsenal lost 2-1 to Swedish side Ostersund in the Europa League on Thursday night - although they have still progressed into the next round with a 4-2 aggregate win. The Gunners will now face AC Milan in the last 16 of the continental competition.

Wenger has been boosted by Aaron Ramsey's recovery from a groin injury which puts him in contention to return, while Mesut Ozil should shake off an illness to be involved and club-record signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is available having been ineligible in Europe.

Raheem Sterling is an injury doubt for City, with Guardiola revealing the England forward missed Monday's shock FA Cup loss to Wigan with an unspecified injury.

Guardiola: "He had a muscular problem. I don't know if he will be ready for Sunday. He had a problem in the game against Basel."

On the positive side, striker Gabriel Jesus could come back into contention after close to two months out with a knee injury.

For Arsenal, Aaron Ramsey is winning his battle to be fit. The Wales international has missed the last three games with a groin injury but Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is confident he will now be ready to be involved at Wembley.

Mesut Ozil is also expected to be available after illness while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can plan having been ineligible in the Europa League - meanwhile Alexandre Lacazette (knee) and Santi Cazorla (Achilles) are out and Henrikh Mkhitaryan is cup-tied.

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