Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke will jet in to declare belief in manager Arsene Wenger
STAN Kroenke, Arsenal’s billionaire owner, will reaffirm his support for Arsène Wenger this week when he flies into London for a meeting with the club’s manager and the rest of the board.
Saturday’s 2-0 FA Cup defeat against Sunderland has effectively condemned Arsenal to another trophy-less season, but the message from Kroenke is that the club must now remain unified and focused on securing a 16th consecutive top-four finish.
The Arsenal directors will hold a regular board meeting on Thursday, with Kroenke and Wenger both due to attend.
Recent disappointments are certain to be addressed but also the club’s longer-term plans and the imminent release of their half-yearly accounts.
They will show profits of about £55 million. It has been made clear to Wenger that the money is available to enhance or overhaul the squad this summer.
Although Wenger and chief executive Ivan Gazidis run Arsenal on a day-to-day basis, Kroenke remains closely involved with key decisions and is acutely aware of the unrest among supporters.
Contrary to popular perception, he has regularly visited the Emirates since becoming majority owner last April and has attended every monthly board meeting. He has also watched several matches this season, including the win against Chelsea and the defeat by Liverpool.
The consistent message on Wenger from Kroenke and the rest of the board is that his position is not contingent on finishing in the top four. Wenger, though, acknowledged that it would be a “disaster” for the club to lose their Champions League status and has said that he would only consider his position if he personally felt that he had underachieved.
Arsenal are well aware that Wenger would be a leading candidate to manage Real Madrid should Jose Mourinho leave this summer. Club sources have privately dismissed suggestions that there are plans to invite the Frenchman into a boardroom position at the Emirates in the close season.
Wenger, 63 this year, has consistently said that he intends to honour a contract that expires in 2014. On Saturday, he indicated that he wants to oversee an Arsenal revival.
“We have what it takes at the club [to rebuild in the summer] and we will add what it takes,” Wenger said. Arsenal still believe they can attract top players this summer – with Lukas Podolski, Mario Gotze and Eden Hazard among their targets – but they know that Champions League qualification is critical to that aim.
They also face major challenges – and decisions – over existing players, with Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott, Andrei Arshavin and Tomas Rosicky all approaching the end of their contracts.
Wenger retains hope that Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby will play again this season. “We have what it takes at the club when everybody is available because we had many missing and big, big players, too,” Wenger said. “We are in mid-February and Wilshere has played zero games, Diaby has played zero games and [Per] Mertesacker is out for the rest of the season. Santos is out for three months.
“That would be difficult for any club in the world to deal with. It’s hard enough to lose one or two players and we have lost too many. But at the moment I believe we are not making plans for next season. We are making plans for the next game.”
That game, against rivals Tottenham Hotspur, is arguably the most important north London derby in Wenger’s 16-year reign at Arsenal.
Wenger likened finishing in the top-four this season to winning a trophy. “Our main target now is to focus on the championship,” he said. “People are always asking the same question, but the first trophy is to finish in the top four. That is vital for us. Let’s win our next home game and we will be fine.
“A week ago, we won at Sunderland in the championship and that is our main target. Then we lost at AC Milan and then again here. That’s basically down to the fact that we had to give a lot on Wednesday night and then we had to travel again. That is difficult for any team in the world.
“We put a lot of spirit into this game against Sunderland and if we keep that spirit and recover a bit physically, then we can win that next game.”
Wenger has had his differences with Martin O’Neill, but the Sunderland manager yesterday offered a resounding endorsement.
“You are talking about a bright and intelligent man,” O’Neill said. “His judgment and record stands the highest scrutiny. They have qualified every year for the Champions League and he could do that again.
“I only know Wenger from a distance, but what he has achieved has been fantastic. When he chooses to leave, he will be a major, major loss.
“He has had a disappointing week and expectations have been high, but eventually you win a game or two and the pressure passes on to the next manager.”