Scottish Premier League

McKeown ruled out for season

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Thu, 18 Apr 2013 22:05:00

Hearts have confirmed defender Darren Barr and midfielder Gordon Smith will be leaving the club during the summer.

The duo are among a number of players at Tynecastle who are out of contract at the end of the season.

Barr has been a regular this term following a slow start to his time at the club after arriving from Falkirk, while academy graduate Smith could not make a sustained first-team breakthrough despite scoring in an Edinburgh derby.

Another six players - defender Andy Webster, Marius Zaliukas, Danny Grainger, Dylan McGowan, and Fraser Mullen - have agreements which expire at the end of next month along with forward Arvydas Novikovas.

Hearts boss Gary Locke is uncertain on who will be staying at the club, but he insists his squad has much to play for.

Locke said: "We are still not sure what is happening but no matter what, players are playing for their futures here or for their futures somewhere else.

"It's important that they give it their all from now until the end of the season. I know the lads really well and no matter who plays, they will give it everything they have got.

"Hopefully that will be enough to get us some victories."

The Poland keeper had only just returned to the side following fitness problems, ousting Wojciech Szczesny as he delivered a clean sheet in the Champions League away win over Bayern Munich and then also at Swansea.

However, Fabianski missed the midweek goalless draw against Everton at the Emirates Stadium, and is now set to be monitored "day-by-day" to assess his availability for the crucial run-in as Arsenal look to cement a top-four finish.

"Fabianski has a crack in his rib that has not moved, so we have to treat it clinically,'' said Arsene Wenger, whose side travel to Fulham on Saturday.

"That means has he pain or does he not? That is day by day."

Szczesny, who turned 23 on Thursday, coincidentally sharing a birthday with his Polish team-mate, had little to do against Everton, but was alert enough when called up.

Wenger was happy with the goalkeeper's response to being dropped - which had brought stinging public criticism from the player's father.

"He had a good performance, I was pleased with his focus, with his sharpness," the Arsenal boss said.

"He dealt well with the situation that he faced.

"In our job there is only one way to respond, to practice harder and stronger and show that you are ready for a fight, that is what he did.''

Wenger, meanwhile, has played down suggestions he was set to move for Alex Song in the summer, following reports the combative Cameroon midfielder was unhappy with life at Barcelona, having signed a five-year deal after a ?15million transfer in August.

"There is no buy-back [clause] in his contract,'' said Wenger.

"He is a quality player and sometimes the players have to insist when it doesn't go well and not change his mind too soon.

"My personal advice for him would be to give it another go and after two seasons he can still make a decision.''

Wenger was less than impressed by some of the challenges from Everton during Tuesday night's bruising goalless draw at the Emirates Stadium, where Toffees midfielder Darron Gibson stayed on the pitch despite twice pole-axing Theo Walcott in the first half.

The issue of strong physical contact was highlighted again when West Ham forward Andy Carroll clattered into Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea at Upton Park on Wednesday night, which left Red Devils boss Sir Alex Ferguson crying foul and calling for a red card.

Wenger admitted he could see both sides, saying regarding Carroll: "He went for the ball at the start, but he was too late.''

Wenger, though, has no issue with fair, robust challenges which the French coach feels are "a strength of the English game".

"I don't think it holds players back. In fact, the opposite, the foreign players who come to England improve and you get that aspect of the game as well," he said.

"I have seen so many French players complain about the physicality when they arrived in England. I tell them it will take some time, but the intensity of the game will make them better players.

"It was worse 15 years ago than it is now, back then no-one would have spoken about the Carroll challenge, now everything is analysed on television.

"Some players complained and then, after they moved away, they missed the English game."

Wenger added: "When you look at some players, you cannot say the physicality of the game stops them from displaying their talent.

"When I brought (Robert) Pires here, he was not especially physical player, but no-one could stop him from playing his game - (Marc) Overmars, (Dennis) Bergkamp, nobody could stop them.

"You cannot say it is physical or it is kicking, it is just that the commitment is high and that is what you want."

Wenger, though, knows from painful experience just what the result of poor tackles can be.

He said: "What I regret is when it goes overboard and we lost some players like Eduardo and (Abou) Diaby, who paid a high price for that aspect.

"It is a fine line, that is why I say it is the intention that counts.

"When a player makes a deliberate foul to stop a player going forward on a counter attack, that is a real yellow card.

"After, the physicality of the English game is one of the attractions of it, as long as the intention is fair from the player who goes into the challenge. That is the most important.

"What we have seen recently, and what you sometimes only see on slow motion, is players who go over the ball.

"I don't have a problem with players who go in completely 100 per cent because that is what you want to keep in the English game.

"Sometimes I watch foreign games and after 20 minutes you are bored because every time somebody goes down it is a foul, and you say 'Come on'. That is not football as well.

"We do not want to lose the strengths and what makes English football attractive, but the intention of the players has to be fair.''

Wenger's current side may not be full of no-nonsense characters such as former skippers Patrick Vieira and Tony Adams, but the Gunners boss maintains suggestions Arsenal lack players capable of standing up for themselves in the heat of battle are no longer valid.

"I had teams who were not vulnerable to that (physical side), but when we built the stadium here, we were much younger, and of course vulnerable," said Wenger.

"(With players like) (Cesc) Fabregas, at 17 years of age, we were a bit more vulnerable at Stoke than we are today, that is natural."

After Chelsea beat west London rivals Fulham 3-0 at Stamford Bridge, Arsenal are now back down to fourth again, a point behind the Blues and two ahead of Tottenham, albeit having played a match more.

Wenger expects nothing else than total commitment when they travel to Craven Cottage, chasing what would be a ninth win in the last 12 league games.

"We are in a fight where every performance you want to be at the best possible level and we will focus on that on Saturday,'' he said.

"It is a derby and you always expect a game in London to be difficult so the only for us to deal with that is to focus the way we did against Everton and come out with a strong performance.''

McKeown has not featured since early March and went under the knife to cure the problem.

Killie assistant boss Jimmy Nicholl said: "Rory McKeown had an operation yesterday. It seemed to be a success.

"It was just a wee clean-up, a tidy-up, but I think his season is over to be honest.

"The medical people might tell me something different but there are only four or five weeks left so I can't imagine Rory being involved."

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