Arsene Wenger fears Blackburn Rovers will try to rough up Arsenal in today's clash at Ewood Park - unless referee Chris Foy stops their aggressive tactics. Wenger, whose new acquisition Sebastien Squillaci will not be included in the squad following his move from Sevilla on Thursday, makes no secret of his dislike for the Premier League's more physical teams.
Rovers, who are managed by Sam Allardyce, are one of those, in Wenger's opinion, and when the Gunners were beaten there last season referee Martin Atkinson was berated for failing to provide the visitors with protection, especially when it came to challenges on the goalkeeper. Wenger is keen to avoid a repeat this time and he hopes Foy will take action if Rovers get too rough. "I believe everybody looks at his squad and tries to find a way where the game is most efficient and we developed one way," Wenger said.
"It is not the only way, I respect every other way - as long as the referees get the rules respected." Wenger used Stoke City - another of his least-favourite opponents - as an example of how not to play the game following the Potters' defeat last week to Tottenham Hotspur. "I saw some pictures last Sunday; you cannot say any more it is football, it is rugby on the goalkeepers," he said. "The referees cannot go on and accept that because that has nothing to do with the game.
"You cannot have players whose main role is to stop the goalkeepers from catching the ball and not even go for the ball." Blackburn are sure to provide Arsenal with a sterner test than neighbours Blackpool managed in London last weekend, with the Premier League newcomers suffering a 6-0 defeat. The Lancashire club last night confirmed the signing of Benjani Mwaruwari, the Zimbabwean striker, on a one-year contract.
Rovers have an option to extend the deal by a further year after picking up the former Manchester City and Portsmouth striker on a free transfer. However, Benjani was not registered in time to face the Gunners. Chelsea began their title defence with 6-0 routs of West Bromwich Albion and Wigan Athletic to lead the standings by two points. And Stoke, the visitors to Stamford Bridge today, were routed 7-0 by Chelsea in April.
Ramires, the Brazil midfielder, is set for a place on the bench as the £17 million (Dh97m) recruit from Benfica looks to make his debut. He is realistic about his chances of getting a regular place in a midfield that includes John Obi Mikel, Michael Essien and Frank Lampard. "I'll just have to work hard, be patient and see what happens," said Ramires, 23. Confidence is high at Tottenham, who play Wigan after beating Young Boys of Berne 4-0 on Wednesday in their second leg Champions League qualifier to reach the group stages for the first time.
Having dropped out of the top four last season at Spurs' expense, Liverpool are still without a win in the new campaign - collecting just one point from a possible six. West Brom, though, should prove to be less challenging opponents than Arsenal and Manchester City. Liverpool's preparations have been boosted by forward Dirk Kuyt committing his future to the club as Javier Mascherano prepared to join Barcelona after the two clubs agreed a fee of around £17.25m for the midfielder's transfer.
Blackpool play their first home match in the Premier League when Fulham travel to Bloomfield Road, while Newcastle United, who beat Aston Villa 6-0 on Sunday, go to Wolverhampton Wanderers. * Agencies