Arsène Wenger insisted on Friday that he had not considered walking away from Arsenal for “one second” despite revealing he would leave it later than ever before to decide his future.
Wenger declared his desire to see out his contract, which expires at the end of next season, and his faith in himself as a coach were undiminished by arguably the biggest crisis of his 16 years at the club.
However, four days after reacting angrily to suggestions that he was negotiating a new deal, the Frenchman admitted he was operating on a “short-term plan” and said he would not decide until next year whether to carry on as manager.
Wenger has been under pressure to step down from what appears a growing number of Arsenal supporters, but he retains the full backing of the club, who did not even discuss his future at their board meeting on Thursday afternoon.
They were also comfortable with the 63-year-old’s revelation, pointing out he always waited until the final year of his contract before agreeing an extension.
Wenger, however, has never left it quite as late as he plans to with his current deal, suggesting it would take him that long to make up his mind.
"I have a contract until the end of 2014 and at the moment we are on a short-term plan,” he said. “That is for two reasons: because I am here for a long time and, as well, I have to consider what I want to do. That will be decided in 2014, not before.”
Wenger’s tetchy response to the subject of his future at a press conference on Monday betrayed the stress he was feeling after Arsenal’s latest embarrassing cup exit at the hands of lowly Blackburn Rovers.
He then watched his players outclassed by Bayern Munich in the Champions League last-16 first leg on Tuesday to leave the club on the brink of an eighth successive season without silverware.
Yet he was back to his congenial self at his latest appearance in front of the media on Friday, joking that he had “calmed down” and even challenging a reporter to a “one-on-one” football match.
That bullishness extended to his assessment of just how far Arsenal had fallen in the last eight years. He insisted they were “not far away” from Bayern’s level and questioned whether the runaway Bundesliga leaders deserved all the plaudits they had been given.
“You send Chelsea and Man City to Germany and we will speak about Bayern again,” the Arsenal manager said. “They have no competition financially in Germany.”
One of the biggest frustrations among Wenger’s critics has been his refusal to spend the money he is said to have at his disposal. He claimed that Arsenal had been prevented from competing with Chelsea and City in the transfer market by the debts incurred from their 2006 move to the Emirates Stadium but insisted that was about to change.
Asked whether Arsenal would ever entertain paying £40 million for Radamel Falcao, he said: “We can do it. If we can afford it, we will not say no.”
Claiming it would be “a disaster” it the club abandoned their fiscal philosophy altogether, he said: “We have to be faithful to what this club is about, which is to give a chance to the young players we educate – that is vital – and therefore to bring in the players only who give us really a plus. If we find tomorrow a player of top, top, top quality, we will take him.”
Wenger did admit that he and Arsenal had been through a “hard time”, adding “we cannot afford to drop points” in the race for fourth place in the Premier League ahead of the match with Aston Villa on Saturday. He confirmed Bacary Sagna would miss the game with a knee problem.