Arsene Wenger today hit out at the international friendly schedule and revealed Arsenal are considering lodging an official complaint against the Belgian association after Wenger claimed they “forced” injured defender Thomas Vermaelen to play a full match in midweek.
The Gunners head to Liverpool tomorrow for what is a key clash in their quest to maintain a top-four place in the Barclays Premier League, having thrashed arch-rivals Tottenham 5-2 last weekend.
Like most Premier League clubs, Arsenal’s squad have jetted around the globe during the latest round of international friendlies, which saw captain Robin van Persie play for Holland against England at Wembley despite having picked up a groin problem.
Wenger, though, was left seething at Belgium’s use of centre-half Vermaelen - who has endured more than his fair share of injury problems – for their game in Greece.
“It looks like Belgium has made a decision which I still do not understand and we will look to see if we can put a complaint in,” the Arsenal manager said.
“Firstly they forced the player to travel, then they forced him to play 90 minutes after being injured and had a centre-back on the bench who did not play at all, in a friendly game knowing they do not even go to the European Championship. For me, that is difficult to understand.”
Wenger continued: “The friendlies are becoming more and more difficult to accept for everybody.
“I was always in favour of using the players for official games and I never asked any player not to go 100% for his country when it is a qualifier or a big competition, but the friendlies are becoming more and more difficult, especially in this period.”
Arsenal played Spurs at Sunday lunchtime, and will host AC Milan for the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday night, which is all but over following a 4-0 defeat in Italy a fortnight ago.
Wenger believes such a schedule makes it “impossible” to get the best out of players for both club and country.
He said: “For us it is vital we do not lose the players now. If you go into a period like that with players already touched (by injury) you have more chances to lose the players.
“The Holland manager (Bert van Marwijk) hasn’t spoken to me, but he knew Robin was injured because he said despite his groin problem, he will play him, it is the same with the Belgium manager (Georges Leekens).
“We are the only team in the world who had that schedule so it is very difficult to understand that our players had to go injured to Greece and play 90 minutes for Belgium. That’s frankly not defendable.
“It is disrespectful to the players as well as me.”
Arsenal could put further distance between themselves and Carling Cup winners Liverpool with victory tomorrow, as well as close up on Spurs, who host Manchester United on Sunday.
Despite not having lost at home in the league, the Reds have drawn eight times.
Wenger said: “You never go to Liverpool and think you have an easy game in front of you. Let’s not forget Liverpool won 18 championships so of course that is still in the history and the minds of every single person in England.
“But things have levelled out now and everybody can take points everywhere. You see that with the results in the Premier League.
“Every point we can take now is vital until the end of the season.”
The Royal Belgian Football Association (KVKB) maintain there was no pre-match agreement with Arsenal that Vermaelen would not feature against Greece.
A spokesman for the KVKB confirmed the defender was examined by the association’s own medical team when he reported for international duty in Brussels and was happy to take his place in the team.
Belgium had to play the final half an hour with only 10 men following the dismissal of defender Nicolas Lombaerts, meaning coach Georges Leekens was limited in his tactical changes available during the closing stages.
The KVKB insist Vermaelen had shown no signs of being hampered by any injury when he left the squad to return to London.
Wenger had admitted at this morning’s press conference he would have to wait until the end of the upcoming training session before being able to make a final decision on Van Persie and Vermaelen’s likely involvement at Anfield.
The duo both joined in with the group, appearing relaxed during some jogging sessions and ballwork in photos posted on the club’s official website this afternoon.