Arsene Wenger has criticised the decision to withdraw referee Kevin Friend from overseeing Monday’s Premier League fixture between Tottenham and Stoke.
The Professional Game Match Officials Board took the decision to remove him from a game which could do much to influence Tottenham’s pursuit of the title because he supports Leicester, the league leaders, owing to “the timing and context” surrounding it.
Spurs fans wrote of their concerns about Friend’s allegiance on social media, but Wenger believes such forums should not be able to affect decisions that are taken and is both “surprised and disappointed” that a professional official’s impartiality is being questioned.
“I’m completely against that,” the Arsenal manager said. “The referees are professional people. You’re supposed to be impartial whatever happens. I was always against this rule. I believe that, on some level, someone doesn’t believe completely that the referee is not impartial [sic]. It surprises me that that happens.
“Social media shouldn’t dictate the rules or what happens to a referee. People at the top level have the responsibility to make these decisions. I’m surprised and disappointed.
“I had this chat already with [referees’ chief] Mike Riley. You cannot consider referees having to declare who they support and then not refereeing that team. If they referee a team who is fighting with the team they support, they can’t even referee that match.
“If you go down that route, you’re thinking the referees are not professional. To be profesional is to do what the rules demand. If they can’t be impartial because they have an emotional link with the club, that’s not about being professional.
“If you go that way, it becomes a nightmare every week to choose a referee for every single game. A dangerous precedent.
“The solution is you don’t look where they come from, who they support, and you put the best referees into the games.”
Wenger also revealed Jack Wilshere is not yet ready for a first-team return.