LONDON, England, January 14 – Arsene Wenger has accused rival clubs of manipulating the Premier League fixture schedule for their own benefit by “directly” influencing broadcasters, saying the game had “sold its soul”.
The angry Arsenal manager, speaking ahead of his team’s televised clash with Swansea on Sunday, voiced his concern over other sides getting more recovery time between matches because of the way broadcast matches are allocated.
“I don’t believe the Premier League in the last months or last year have played a very fair role in the distribution of the fixtures,” he said.
“They are sold to television and television is influenced by some clubs to choose the fixtures.
“And some clubs get advantaged by television, if it’s (satellite broadcasters) Sky or ESPN, because they have an influence there from the clubs directly,” the Frenchman added.
“If things are repeated then it’s not a coincidence any more. In England it’s always very difficult to say what you feel about that, but I’m not the only manager who thinks that. There’s a real problem there.”
Wenger refused to name clubs, but there is a clear disadvantage to Arsenal during a round of fixtures at the end of the month.
Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham will all play on January 31 and Arsenal, currently behind the quartet in fifth place, will have two fixtures by the time those four step onto the field again.
Wenger accepted television would want a say on deciding which matches to screen but urged the Premier League to take a tougher line with broadcasters.
“We have sold our soul and we do not control our games, our fixtures, any more. But it is the truth.
“I cannot say that the television is wrong, but it’s not normal that they can have a direct influence on the schedule. The Premier League should be in complete control of the Premier League.”
Arsenal’s match at the Liberty Stadium could see Thierry Henry make his first Premier League appearance since returning to the Gunners in a loan move from New York Red Bulls.
The club’s record goalscorer, who marked his return by coming off the bench to score the winner in their FA Cup third round victory at home to Leeds on Monday, is again set to be among the substitutes.
But Wenger said the France World Cup winner could be involved from the kick-off.
“I don’t know. He’s ready to start. He was ready to start against Leeds, but the most important thing is to help the team win games.
“The way he does it, I cannot say what will happen on Sunday, but he can help us win games coming off the bench or starting the games.”
Wenger, meanwhile, was confident Henry and Dutch striker Robin van Persie could play in the same team.
“They can play together, as long as the team’s balanced around them,” he said. “Henry could go back wide as he used to. He still has the reflexes of a winger when he’s on the left, getting past people to deliver.”
Late decisions will be made on the fitness of Per Mertesacker and Tomas Rosicky, with Wenger wary of the threat Swansea — seven points above the relegation zone — pose.
“They have the quality to play in the Premier League because they play positive football,” Wenger said of Swansea. “They keep possession and master possession in many games, and have the technical quality to be where they are. Over 38 games, that pays off.”
Swansea defender Angel Rangel insisted his team-mates should not focus solely on van Persie, the Premier League’s top scorer.
“Goals win games and he has been scoring and playing well. He can hold the ball, has two good feet and runs the channels well.
“However, we will need to work hard together and not just concentrate on one player. If we concentrate on stopping someone like van Persie, they will look to their other players and they can all change a game.”