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Friday 21 July 2017

Arsene Wenger dismisses plane protest as Arsenal boost Champions League hopes

Arsene Wenger has got his eye on fourth spot
Arsene Wenger has got his eye on fourth spot

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger vowed his focus would remain on his side's push for Champions League football and not the protests against him after a 4-1 win at Stoke.

The gap between the fifth-placed Gunners and fourth-placed Liverpool was reduced to a point, with both teams having two games to go, as Wenger's men recorded only their second Premier League away victory over the Potters in nine attempts.

There have been several recent instances of Arsenal fans calling for the manager to leave at the end of this season, and early on during the match at the bet365 Stadium a plane flew over the ground with a banner on display that read 'WENGER - OUT MEANS OUT!!'.

When asked about that following the game, Wenger - who is still yet to announce whether he intends to stay on at the club after this term - said: "Look, I am paid to do my job for a club I love. I will do that as long as I am here, with full commitment, and I am not influenced by that at all.

"All I can do is give my best. We have 69 points today - let's make it 72 on Tuesday (when Arsenal host Sunderland), and after that I will give my best as long as I am here for the values of this club.

"I want to focus on football and all the rest is, for me, less important.

"I am not in politics, I am in sport. I love sport, I give 24 hours a day for what I love and all the rest - I am in a public job, some agree with me, some do not. But I have no special opinion on that."

When it was put to him that reports in France had suggested he will extend his time at Arsenal past the end of the season by signing a new one-year deal, Wenger said: "There is no information about that, nothing."

Liverpool play at West Ham on Sunday knowing that anything other than a win will open the door for Arsenal to overtake them when they face Sunderland.

Wenger replied, "Yes", with a smile when asked if he would be a West Ham fan for 24 hours, and said: "I think one of the qualities of the Premier League is that, historically, there is a pride in every team to give their best until the end of the season.

"I think I saw West Ham do that against Tottenham (when they beat them 1-0 at home last week).

"You just expect two teams to play with full power - if the other teams are better, they are better."

Arsenal went 2-0 up via Olivier Giroud's finish in the 42nd minute and Mesut Ozil's in the 55th.

Stoke hit back though a controversial 67th-minute Peter Crouch effort, which saw him appear to divert the ball in with his arm, before goals from Alexis Sanchez in the 76th minute and Giroud 10 minutes from time wrapped things up for the visitors.

Wenger's anger at the Crouch goal was clear at the time, and he said of the incident afterwards: "I was suspicious about the noise of the ball. I was surprised he got to the ball when I saw his position, and people told me it was handball."

The 67-year-old also notably claimed his team had kept a clean sheet.

Reflecting on his side's performance, Wenger - who has spoken out in the past about Stoke's tactics - said: "I thought we were dominant, had a good structure, were patient and intelligent, and stuck together in the moment when Stoke tried to make it rough for us.

"That was a patch in the second half where we had to stick together, at a few corners. And we kept a clean sheet again."

Asked if it had been unfairly rough, Wenger said: "I don't say that. In the second half they made it a bit more physical, we had to find some resources and keep our nerve, and continue with the desire to play, and we did that well."

Wenger also revealed the impressive Sanchez had come off just after scoring due to a kick on the thigh, adding that he did not expect it to sideline the Chilean for the Sunderland game.

Stoke boss Mark Hughes, whose 13th-placed side have won only one of their last 10 matches, expressed his frustration after a contest in which the Potters only really came to life having gone 2-0 down.

Hughes said: "Them scoring just before half-time was obviously a blow to us and then, conceding the second goal, it is difficult from that point onwards.

"We were okay and had a good shape in the first half, but in terms of what we wanted to do in attack, that didn't really happen for us.

"We had good moments when we had numbers to break, and it just kept on breaking down - and we're better than that.

"That was frustrating, and then second half we were chasing a game which was difficult to come back into."

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