Wenger aims to silence critics with Euro push

There is nothing Arsene Wenger relishes more than confounding his doubters and the Arsenal manager will know on Saturday whether he has a strong chance of doing so once again.

Wenger aims to silence critics with Euro push

Wenger’s side travel to Stoke having boosted their chances of qualifying for the Champions League – a task that looked a lost cause just a few weeks ago – by winning 2-0 at Southampton on Wednesday.

That left Arsenal in fifth place in the Premier League, three points behind Manchester City in the slot directly above.

City will have played their home game with West Bromwich Albion by the time Arsenal kick off at Stoke, but a Gunners victory is sure to stoke up the pressure on Liverpool, who are currently in third.

Jurgen Klopp’s side are four points better off than Arsenal, but crucially have played one fixture more than City and the Gunners, and are at West Ham on Sunday.

But while Wenger cannot wait to say ‘told you so’ to his critics Gunners defender Shkodran Mustafi is still concerned his team may have left it a little too late.

“I wish we found that before,” he said of Arsenal’s recent revival.

“But now we have three games and we have to give everything to try and get everything out of all the games. Hopefully at the end we’ll reach our goals.”

Arsenal will finish the campaign with home games against relegated Sunderland and then Everton, but first they must focus on ending their poor run at Stoke.

Although they have not won there since 2010, losing on four of their eight visits, Wenger’s men will be hopeful of ending that sorry sequence so long as Alexis Sanchez is in the team.

Arsene Wenger unaware of who assumed captaincy role

Arsene Wenger admits he does not know who captained his Arsenal side for the second half of their draw with Manchester City.

Arsene Wenger unaware of who assumed captaincy role

The under-fire Frenchman made the startling revelation yesterday morning when he was asked who took the armband from Laurent Koscielny when he was forced off at half-time with an Achilles problem.

With club captain Per Mertesacker not on the pitch and stand-in Petr Cech out injured, there were still likely candidates in the shape of Theo Walcott or Alexis Sanchez.

But it was unclear who, if anyone, had taken the responsibility from Koscielny with Wenger conceding he was not sure who was skipper as the Gunners fought back to seal a 2-2 draw against Pep Guardiola’s side on Sunday.

After ruling both Cech and Koscielny out of tonight’s clash at home to West Ham, Wenger said he was unsure who would lead Arsenal out before making the admission he did not know who had finished Sunday’s game as captain.

“I don’t remember,” he said.

“It is a good question. Nobody asked me who is captain. I will have 24 hours to think about that.”

Wenger also insisted he has no plans to change his approach to the game despite ongoing protests against his continued management of the club.

Protests have been held before the last three home games and a handful of supporters stood outside Arsenal’s training ground yesterday morning as they bid to prevent Wenger signing a new deal.

The Frenchman’s current contract runs until the end of the season but he is yet to announce whether he will stay or go after a run of just three wins in 10 games.

Speaking at a pre-arranged supporters forum on Sunday, chief executive Ivan Gazidis said the recent form should be a “catalyst for change” — although he was not talking specifically about Wenger.

And the 67-year-old said he wants to continue to learn but has no plans to suddenly change the way he operates.

“That has nothing to do with you to change,” he replied when asked about reinventing himself. “That is something you do to improve. My battle in my whole life is to improve and to be better. That is evolution, not change.

“I think we just need to focus on tomorrow (against West Ham) and forget all the rest.”

Wenger also had little time for the protesters stood outside Arsenal’s London Colney training base, one sporting a Wenger mask and surrounded by anti-Wenger banners.

He said: “It is three guys. Honestly. Why should I waste energy on that. Honestly. I don’t know what to say. It is good that they can waste their day like that.

“The problem in our game today is that what is superficial is the heart of the debate and the things that are important nobody talks about.”

Meanwhile, Slaven Bilic has confirmed that West Ham will offer Michail Antonio an improved contract this summer.

Antonio, who is set to return from a hamstring injury against Arsenal tonight, has been the Hammers’ star performer this season and the club are determined to keep him in east London.

Bilic said: “The club is offering him a new contract.”

Arsene Wenger says he is planning for next season at Arsenal

Arsene Wenger is planning for next season as manager of Arsenal and believes uncertainty over his future should not affect his current squad or potential new recruits.

Arsene Wenger says he is planning for next season at Arsenal

The 67-year-old could still walk away from the Emirates Stadium when his contract expires in the summer as supporters continue to protest against his reign.

Wenger, who celebrated 20 years in charge of the Gunners in October, has increasingly split the fan base in recent months, especially following a run of six defeats in nine games.

That slump included a 10-2 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League and two of their three wins in that time came against non-league sides Sutton and Lincoln in the FA Cup.

Wenger has never finished outside the Premier League’s top four in any full season at the helm but Arsenal now sit sixth, with another protest planned ahead of Sunday’s visit of Manchester City.

He revealed after the recent 3-1 loss at West Brom that he has made a decision on whether he will stay or go at the end of the season – but admits he has had to start preparations for next year as if he will remain at the club.

Asked if he was planning for next season, the Frenchman replied: “Yes, of course.

“But that again, I told you, do I stay two months or 10 years, I plan. I do my job exactly the same. Of course you can do that.”

If Arsenal do finish outside the Champions League positions, there is likely to be an overhaul of their squad during the summer.

But planning ahead is crucial if a club is to avoid missing out on key targets and Wenger insists top players will be attracted by the lure of playing for Arsenal, regardless of who the manager is come the start of next term.

“Yes of course,” he replied when asked if transfer targets will ask if he will be at the club.

“But we are always honest and when you speak with people you are always honest. Arsenal is a world brand today, respected all over the world.

“The Arsenal name is bigger than my name and coming to Arsenal is more important – you don’t come to Arsene Wenger, you come to Arsenal.

“But we are at the moment not in a transfer mode. We analyse what we have to strengthen but we are not in contract negotiations at the moment with players.”

Wenger also feels that his current players should not be using the uncertainty over his future as an “easy excuse” for the recent run.

“It would be an easy excuse and I could be out of contract and I am at the end of the season and still perform,” he told Sky Sports News.

“For me whether I stay three years or 10 years I have exactly the same commitment and the same desire to win the next game.

“I believe as well we are in the position where we do not have to find easy excuses. Our job is to perform – can you perform despite that?”

He also called for his players to “be men” and concern themselves more with performances on the pitch rather than any uncertainty off it.

“I personally believe that, to be professional, is to perform on a football pitch and not look for excuses that are not real problems outside the pitch,” he said.

“The situation is not sorted out and I believe at the moment we probably focus on what is essential.

“My attachment to this club, at the moment, it is as it is and I do not see any escape route to have less responsibilities because I might not be here. We have to be men and focus on what matters and what is our job.

“If the worst you can accuse me of in 20 years at the club is to create instability (because of the contract uncertainty)…. I think, if I created something, it is stability.”

Meanwhile, a prominent Arsenal supporters’ club has called for Wenger to leave as the majority of their members believe he is no longer the right man for the job.

The 1,000 members of the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust (AST) were sent a survey which included the question: “Do you support Arsene Wenger signing a new contract and remaining as Arsenal manager?” Only 15 per cent said “yes” and 78 per cent of respondents said “no”.

The handling of Wenger’s contract situation drew even more negative replies, with 86 per cent responding “no” when asked: “Do you think the way that the Arsenal board have dealt with Arsene Wenger’s contract is in the best interests of Arsenal Football Club?”

It remains to be seen what level the protests will reach on Sunday but Wenger will hope to at least address matters on the pitch with victory over a direct Premier League rival.

Pep Guardiola: Treatment of Arsene Wenger has been ‘unacceptable’

Pep Guardiola has branded some of the recent coveragesurrounding Arsene Wenger as “unacceptable”.

Pep Guardiola: Treatment of Arsene Wenger has been 'unacceptable'

The Manchester City boss believes a lot of the criticism aimed at the Arsenal manager and the speculation over the Frenchman’s future is out of order.

Scrutiny over the the position of Wenger, who has been in his role for over 20 years, has increased considerably since the Gunners were thrashed 5-1 at Bayern Munich in the Champions League in midweek.

Guardiola spoke up for his rival without prompting, amid a complaint about media in general, after being asked a question about his team selection for City’s FA Cup fifth-round tie at Huddersfield on Saturday.

City drew 0-0 with the Championship side after the 46-year-old Catalan made eight changes.

Asked if he felt he should have picked a stronger team, Guardiola said in a press conference: “My friend, I take the decisions, you analyse my decisions.

“You have to take a decision before, to (find) the best solution (and) it was what I did. If you don’t agree, you can write it.

“What I hear in the last 10 days, about how people, ex-players, journalists treat Arsene Wenger is unacceptable.

“Our job, in that moment, doesn’t have any respect for any position, so it is unrespectable, what happened.

“That is why we take the decisions and you can say whatever you want.”

Arsenal manager charged for pushing official

AN apology from Arsene Wenger has not been enough for the Arsenal manager to avoid a misconduct charge from the England FA.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger

Wenger was sent from his technical area during the weekend’s 2-1 win over Burnley after he allegedly verbally abused and then pushed the fourth official.

The Arsenal boss was angered at the decision to award a stoppage-time penalty to Burnley, leading to his dismissal from the technical area, before he then pushed fourth official Anthony Taylor as he tried to watch the end of the game from the tunnel.

Burnley’s penalty squared the match but an Alexis Sanchez goal in the final seconds rescued a 2-1 win for the Gunners.

After the incident, Wenger said: “I regret everything. I should have shut up, gone in and go home. I apologise for that.”

But the FA has still slapped him with a misconduct charge.

“Arsene Wenger has been charged for misconduct following Arsenal’s game against Burnley,” an FA statement said.

“It is alleged that in or around the 92nd minute, he used abusive and/or insulting words towards the fourth official.

“It is further alleged that following his dismissal from the technical area, his behaviour in remaining in the tunnel area and making physical contact with the fourth official amounted to improper conduct.”

He has until Friday morning (AEST) ro respond to the charge.

‘We are all here to change history’-Arsène Wenger

Arsène Wenger has called on his side to “change history” and progress beyond the last 16 of the Champions League.

We have been beaten in the first knockout round for the past six seasons, and will face Bayern Munich once again when the competition resumes in February.

‘We are all here to change history’-Arsène Wenger

Wenger – speaking before the draw was made – insists there is no mental barrier holding his side back, and feels we can go further this term.

“They said they made the world in seven days, this is the seventh day for us, so we have to get a special day!” the manager said.

“Many times [in the past] we were in a position where we played at home and we wanted to make the difference and after 10 minutes we conceded a goal and after you think already, ‘Oh no’. This time the advantage is that we play first away from home.

“If we can keep our strength away from home that can help us – let’s have a good first game then we can finish the job at home.

“We are all here to change history and to make history so we have to change what happened before. And make it better.

“I must tell you the best way to have momentum when we go in the Champions League is to have a good position in the league and [ensure] the belief is high. I am convinced that is absolutely vital because I have had experience of it.”


Wenger: Arsenal will always be bigger than Tottenham

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is not worried about Tottenham’s recent progress and believes the Gunners will always remain stronger.

Arsene Wenger says Arsenal will always be a bigger club than Tottenham so long as the club do their job on the pitch.

Spurs will play at a newly developed White Hart Lane from 2018, which with a capacity of 61,000 will be bigger than Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium home.

Under Wenger, Arsenal have never finished below Tottenham in the Premier League, but Spurs have closed the gap and Mauricio Pochettino’s men were only pipped into second on the final day of last season.

However, Wenger insists he is not concerned by Tottenham’s standing and the Frenchman stoked the fires ahead of Sunday’s North London derby by claiming that Spurs will remain in Arsenal’s shadow as long as the Gunners continue to go from strength-to-strength on the pitch.

“I do not think about Tottenham ever becoming a bigger club than Arsenal,” Wenger, whose side are just three points clear of Spurs in the table, was quoted as saying by several national newspapers.

“I think about Arsenal and making us as big as possible, making us stronger.

“We have a strong fan base, maybe the strongest in London, and as long as we do our job Arsenal will always be the stronger.

“No position is guaranteed. It is about doing our job, but at the end of the day everything is decided by what happens on the pitch. That is what the size of a club is about; consistency at the top level. That is just down to us.”


Arsene Wenger warns Arsenal against Ludogorets Razgrad

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has urged his side not to blow the chance to finish top of their Champions League group as they prepare for battle against Bulgarian title winners Ludogorets Razgrad.

Arsene Wenger warns Arsenal against  Ludogorets Razgrad

The Gunners, who trounced Ludogorets 6-0 at home two weeks ago, currently head Group A and three points in Sofia could set up a shoot-out for top spot with French champions Paris Saint-Germain at Emirates Stadium later this month.

Failure to secure pole position has cost Arsenal dear in recent seasons and resulted in treacherous ties in the last-16 stage of the competition. Wenger is determined that his side avoid a similar fate this time around.

“It’s our prime target to win the group,” said Wenger. “Step by step, qualify first. We have played Paris Saint-Germain away, and play them at home to come. We have a good opportunity if we win tomorrow.

“It’s an advantage because you play the second game in the last-16 at home, so you know exactly what you have to achieve at home. You have the support. If it goes to extra time or penalties, you play at home. So it’s a little advantage.

“But if you can finish first, why finish second? We have paid the price many times when we’ve finished second, having to play Barcelona or Bayern Munich, so we think it’s important.”

Despite a commanding victory over Tuesday’s opponents during the previous round of European fixtures, Wenger remains wary of the their potential threat.

“They are in a position where they have to try and win the game as well, like we are,” added Wenger.

Defensive duo Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal, midfielder Santi Cazorla and forward Theo Walcott have not travelled to Bulgaria as they recover from injury, and face a race against time to be fit for Sunday’s north London derby.

Kroenke: Wenger ‘very hard’ to replace

Arsenal remains “very high” on Arsene Wenger and it will be “very hard” replacing the manager who is in the final year of his contract, owner Stan Kroenke said yesterday.

Wenger this month celebrated 20 years in charge of Arsenal and has offered no indication whether he wants to sign a new deal into next season.

The 67-year-old Frenchman became the English Premier League’s longest serving manager when Alex Ferguson retired from Manchester United in 2013. United is now on its third manager in three years and has not competed for the EPL title since Ferguson’s departure.

In a rare interview about Arsenal, Kroenke noted the tricky post-Ferguson succession at United while discussing the challenge of eventually replacing Wenger.

“You see it (at United), you bring up a comment like that,” Kroenke said after Arsenal’s annual general meeting. “It’s very hard. He’s a great manager.”

Wenger signed his last three-year contract extension in 2014.

“We will sit down and discuss the future at the appropriate time,” Arsenal chairman Chips Keswick told shareholders at a meeting in London where Wenger didn’t address his contract situation in his speech.

Although Wenger has won the EPL three times, the last success came in 2004 — a drought which frustrates fans.

“He’s been a wonderful influence on the club,” Kroenke admitted.

“We are all very high on Arsene. We are (joint) top of the table right now.”

Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool are only separated on goal difference at the summit.

Wenger ready to accept Xhaka red card

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has revealed he will not be appealing the red card given to Granit Xhaka during the Gunners’ narrow 3-2 win over Swansea City.

The midfielder was controversially sent off 20 minutes from the end of Sunday’s match at the Emirates Stadium for a late tackle on Modou Barrow.

Wenger ready to accept Xhaka red card

That forced the North Londoners to hang on to a victory which sent them level on points with Premier League leaders Manchester City.

But despite believing Xhaka had been on the receiving end of a rough decision, Wenger said he would not contest the dismissal.

“The sending off looked harsh,” said Wenger. “It was a definite foul but probably dark yellow. The referee went for a dark red. Will I be appealing it? No.

“He is not a dirty player. Do I need to speak to him? No. I think Barrow made a lot of it but you have to respect the decision. He has to learn from it.

“We kept our defensive shape with 10 men, everyone was completely focused.”

Arsenal were seemingly in control at 2-0 and 3-1 after Theo Walcott capitalised on defensive mistakes to score twice in seven minutes in the first half before Gylfi Sigurdsson pulled a goal back for Swansea.

A stunning volley from Mesut Ozil restored Arsenal’s two-goal cushion in the second half only for a goal by Swansea’s Borja Baston and Xhaka’s red card to set up a nervy finish for the home side.

“A comfortable afternoon finished in an uncomfortable way but we got over the line,” said Wenger. “We played in patches some fantastic football. We got over the line because we played with spirit.

“Theo could have had a hat-trick and even four. But he scored two goals and has six (for the season) now.

“Ozil’s goal was a great goal. When you see his finishing you think he does not take his chances to shoot enough. In training he scores basically when he wants,” the veteran French boss added.

“I have some mixed feelings because it looked at some points comfortable and then it never was.

“We have the same number of points as Manchester City so it’s down to us to continue. If you look at the game the potential is very interesting but we have to be intelligent enough to improve.”

Petr Cech will be back under the bar: Arsene Wenger

Petr Cech will return in goal for Arsenal at Hull City on Saturday after missing the 1-1 Champions League draw at Paris St Germain in midweek.

Petr Cech

Petr Cech will be back in goal for the trip to Hull

Colombian David Ospina was selected in Paris and made some fine saves but manager Arsene Wenger told a news conference on Friday that Cech would be back at Hull.

He added that Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey was still unfit and would also miss the League Cup game at second-tier Nottingham Forest on Tuesday.

“We are cautious with him, we do not want a setback with his hamstring,” Wenger said.

Striker Olivier Giroud, sent off after going on from the bench in Paris, is doubtful because of a toe injury.

Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka was also a substitute in midweek but Wenger has tipped him to “have a huge impact” at the club.

“Xhaka is adapting to the pace of the English game…he has the engine power, a long pass and likes to come deep,” said the Frenchman.

Wenger, who celebrates 20 years at Arsenal next week, was complimentary about Hull’s interim manager Mike Phelan.

“He’s done really well,” said Wenger. “He’s a real football man who’s given some stability to Hull who are difficult to beat.”