Monday 23 April 2018

Arsene Wenger admits uncertainty over his future has caused an 'absolutely horrendous' atmosphere at Arsenal

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Arsene Wenger has admitted for the first time that the uncertainty over his future has contributed to an “absolutely horrendous” environment for the Arsenal players this season.

Arsenal finished the Premier League season in fifth, their worst finish in 21 years, consigning them to the Europa League next year. The season has been overshadowed by the ending of Wenger’s contract and his refusal to publicly commit himself to either staying or going this summer.

Wenger finally conceded this evening that his policy of not discussing his future has backfired, distracting his players, damaging the atmosphere and contributing to their under-performance in the league. Although even know Wenger would still not give a clear answer on what happens next, beyond that his situation “will be sorted out soon”.

“Overall I believe that we played since January in a very difficult environment for different reasons,” Wenger said. “Some obviously that you know about, and that is very difficult for the group of players to cope with that. Some other reasons where we will talk about another day. But the psychological environment for the group of the players was absolutely horrendous. I am very proud of what they have done, the way they responded and finished the season.”

The futures of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez have also dominated the season but Wenger was surprisingly honest about the damage done by the fact no-one knows who will be in charge next season. “It has been difficult, yes,” he said. “Certainly my personal situation has contributed to that. But they should not question that I am professional. As long as I am somewhere I do my job until the last day. You could not question my love or my loyalty to this club, because I said no to every club in the world to stay here with very restricted finances for years.”

Wenger has always said that, that he will be committed to Arsenal until the very end of his contract. But that has been used as a cover to avoid answering whether he will sign or not, which Wenger now admits has undermined confidence this season. It has played into discontent about the future of Arsenal, and the second half of this afternoon’s 3-1 win over Everton was dominated by fans demanding that Stan Kroenke sell the club. When asked if he accepted responsibility for that damaging lack of clarity, he said “yes, of course”.

“You have been at the games, and you cannot say that the environment for the group of players was especially positive,” said Wenger.

Ultimately Wenger did not want to use the psychological environment as an excuse, but he did offer it as an explanation for Arsenal’s worst league finish since 1996. “What is important is that we do our job,” he said. “We are professional people and a part of being professional is to perform when the environment is not positive so we have not to look there, as well, as an excuse. But I just say it is a fact it doesn't help.”

Wenger attempted to relieve the pressure on the unpopular American owner of Arsenal by saying that it was not Stan Kroenke’s fault that they finished fifth. Kroenke turned down a £1.3billion bid from Alisher Usmanov for his majority shareholding but Wenger stood by his embattled owner.

“I think you respect everybody in life,” he said. “I respect Stan Kroenke a lot. He is not at fault if we did not reach the Champions League tonight. It is the technical department who is responsible for that. I don’t see what he has to do with that.”

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