Monday 18 December 2017

Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke wants Arsene Wenger to stay at club beyond next summer

Wenger will make a decision on his future at the end of the season CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES
Wenger will make a decision on his future at the end of the season CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Jeremy Wilson

Arsenal majority owner Stan Kroenke has clearly indicated a desire to keep Arsene Wenger beyond the end of this season by describing the club’s board as “very high” on their manager and admitting that he will be an extremely hard act to follow.

A framed montage of all the 210 players to have performed under Wenger was presented to the Arsenal manager at the start of Monday's AGM in recognition of his 20 years at the club and, once the meeting had closed, Kroenke noted the challenge that Manchester United have experienced in replacing a similar figure in Sir Alex Ferguson. “You see it (at United), you bring up a comment like that,” Kroenke said. “It's very hard. We are all very high on Arsene. We are at the top of the table right now. He's a great manager. He's been a wonderful influence on the club.

“I know a number of (sports team) owners who are very successful who say the same thing; the hardest thing to do is be consistently competitive at the top of the league. Arsene has always done that and Arsenal has always been in that position. We have always been competitive.

“We may not always win the things we want to win. We are very focused on winning for sure the league. Arsene's been consistently at the top and I will tell you; it's very, very hard to do if you look around sports.”

During the meeting, Kroenke had also paid a glowing tribute to Wenger’s work. “One of the main reasons we got involved is the values and traditions of the club and no one has represented them better than Arsene,” Kroenke said.

“You [Wenger] brought a new style to English football and our club. Amid a world subject to great scrutiny and pressure, you have always handled yourself with great class. We are excited about the club and season. We know we will compete for trophies and we would like nothing better than to see you win the Championship.”

Wenger’s future was also the subject of a formal question from shareholders during what was the least tense and most optimistic AGM in recent memory. “We will sit down and discuss Arsene’s future at the appropriate time,” said chairman Sir Chips Keswick.

“We all recognise the fantastic contribution Arsene Wenger has made. He continues to have huge energy, passion and desire. We are confident in his ability to take us forward.”

As he did in 2014, Wenger intends to wait until the end of the season before deciding his future. He has indicated that he would like to stay but that his decision will rest on whether he senses that the fans also want him and an assessment of his own performance. Wenger, who turned down the opportunity to manage England after Euro 2016, told shareholders that the squad has never been better equipped to challenge across all four competitions.

“The amount of selling players was a big part of our income and we have survived quite well during that period,” he said. “We are in a much more competitive position than five or six years ago to fight for the Championship.  I believe we have a squad that is more mature and better equipped.”

After Leicester City’s unexpected triumph last season, Wenger also predicted that a higher points tally would be necessary. Leicester finished with 81 points but Arsenal, in second, accumulated only 71.

“If you look well after nine games now you can see the first trend is set,” said Wenger. “The Championship will be decided between 82 to 86 points.” The recent unrest among supporters was also acknowledged and, while chief executive Ivan Gazidis admitted that it was down to the team to convince fans, he made a call now to build on the more unified atmosphere this season.

 “The most important thing is the team inspires confidence and belief,” said Gazidis. “We are committed to that and I know Arsene is and the players are. I hope we can reconnect. I know there has been debate and friction within the club.”

Gazidis also claimed that Arsenal are now far better positioned to keep players like Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, whose current contracts expire in 2018, than they were when negotiations were held previously with the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie. “We have a good track record in recent seasons of retaining players,” said Gazidis. “I think you can see our direction of travel.”

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