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Monday 26 September 2016

Arsene Wenger confirms he turned down PSG and said this is his strongest Arsenal squad ever

Jeremy Wilson

Published 12/09/2016 | 20:56

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger during the press conference
Reuters / Gonzalo Fuentes
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger during the press conference Reuters / Gonzalo Fuentes

Arsene Wenger has confirmed for the first time that he has turned down several opportunities to manage Paris Saint-Germain and claimed that his Arsenal squad is the strongest of his entire 20-year tenure at the club.

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As revealed previously by The Telegraph, Wenger has long been the dream manager of PSG’s Qatari owners and the French sports newspaper L’Equipe reported on Monday that Wenger had rejected three separate approaches in 2011, 2013 and 2014.

Wenger arrived in the French capital last night ahead of his first match against PSG as Arsenal manager and, when asked about L’Equipe’s claims, explained why he had decided to stay in England amid the chance to join a project that would have given him an almost unlimited transfer budget. “Because I love where I am,” said Wenger. “I know well the owners [at PSG], but I feel always I remained loyal to Arsenal Football Club because I think it's a club that has the qualities I love. And, that's why.”

Wenger also turned down the possibility to manage England this year and has previously rejected approaches by Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City and the France national team. The difference in recent years, however, is that Wenger has opted to stay at Arsenal even amid a fan climate that has become far more sceptical about his ability to lead the club to another Premier League title or a first Champions League.

Wenger’s contract expires next summer and, although he is likely to wait until after Christmas before making a final decision on whether to stay, is adamant that he has never had more strength in depth. Significantly, Wenger also admitted that he now finally again has a team in the peak years of their careers following his more limited transfer budget in the immediate aftermath of the club’s move to the Emirates.

The sub-text, then, is an acknowledgment that the time to again seriously challenge for the very biggest prizes has returned. “It’s the most mature squad I’ve had for a long time, because they are men,” said Wenger. “They are not 19 or 20 years old, they are 24, 27, 28 and the whole squad is quite mature. It’s the first time for a long time that I’ve had a team of what you can call men ready to compete.

“I was used to playing with my younger squads when you build a stadium because you don't have the resources. Now I have a team with more experienced players. The squad is between 24 and 30. That's where you have a good combination of physical strength and experience.” Wenger’s current faith has not yet been matched this season by his team’s performances.

Arsenal remain in touch with Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur but they have been less convincing so far than their main rivals despite back-to-back wins against Watford and Southampton.

Wenger believes that the stutter is a consequence of so many of his players reaching at least the semi-finals of Euro 2016. Olivier Giroud is tonight expected to make his first club start of the season while Laurent Koscielny was also passed fit despite significant bruising around his eye after being kicked in the face against Southampton.

“Laurent has taken on a new status with us – I think he's one of the best in the world,” said Wenger. “Mentally we are ready; physically we are not quite ready so far.”

The same could be said for PSG. They have begun the French league season by losing against Monaco and only drawing with Saint Etienne. The departures this summer of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Luiz have also lessened some of the previous box office appeal and there was a definite tetchy air yesterday about the new manager Unai Emery. He has spoken largely in French since his appointment but, upon being asked about the “pressure” and “criticism” he has already faced, reverted yesterday to his native Spanish.  

“I have a lot of confidence in the work we're doing,” said Emery. “I am a coach, Unai Emery, with experience. My experience tells me that demands and my values of winning are exactly the same as when I started out in Spain 12 years ago. I've assessed the whole squad and they've looked me in the eye.”

In the circumstances, Wenger is probably just about the last manager that Emery would like to see and he believes that the Arsenal manager has become an anomaly in modern football.  “In football, you don't have much time,” said Emery. “I'm 44, quite young, and trying to learn still. I have a lot of respect for Wenger’s longevity. It's not very common – there was Alex Ferguson – but we'd all like to be in a similar situation to Arsene Wenger.”

Telegraph.co.uk

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