Arsene Wenger has given the clearest indication yet that he hopes to remain as Arsenal manager beyond the end of this season and has also backed Gareth Southgate as the “outstanding” candidate for the England’s manager job.
Southgate’s England tenure has begun with uninspiring performances in beating Malta 2-0 and drawing with Slovenia but, in what is a significant boost to his chances of being appointed permanently, Wenger has told the FA that they should not be afraid of a lower-profile candidate.
Wenger has also addressed his own future at Arsenal and outlined a desire to stay in management at what he calls the “club of my life” should he feel both wanted and a success. “What will decide whether I continue or not is whether I feel people want me to be there, that my club wants me to be there and my conscience that I’ve done well,” he said.
“That will be a decisive factor, ‘Have I done well? Have we achieved what we want to achieve with this team?’ That will be at stake.”
Wenger is adamant that the subject of a new contract has not yet been discussed and, just as he did in 2014, intends to wait until the end of the season before making a final decision.
“I’m not at the end of my knowledge or desire to do more and become better,” he said.
“The only thing that drives me on is I want to be a better manager tomorrow than I am today. No matter what happens I will have to make my decision and the board will make theirs. Even if I wish to stay on I respect always the decision of the board. They have the responsibility.”
Although there is no chance of Wenger leaving Arsenal this season, he could become an option for England next summer if he does not extend his contract and Southgate does not oversee an improvement.
Yet asked if Southgate was now the outstanding candidate, Wenger said: “Yes, he is. That is the difficulty in England, that there’s always the demand for the big names. What is most important to me is the competence of the person and if a person is competent then he can make a name for himself. I’m happy to see that he has an opportunity to show that he has quality.” Wenger said that he had also been impressed with how Southgate had so far adapted to his new job. His first big call was the decision to drop Wayne Rooney from the starting team against Slovenia.
“He has accumulated experiences, first with Middlesbrough and now with the FA,” said Wenger. “He was a good observer of what was going on in the English national team, and after that we’re in a job where you are questioned, especially when you have less experience. The only answer he can give is by doing his job. He has to show that the decisions he makes are the right ones, and that he has the strength to do what he believes is right.”
Wenger’s comments represent a continuation of a subtle shift in his public attitude towards both the England job and indeed his own future. Two weeks ago, his response to a question about his hypothetical future suitability for England was “why not” but he then said last week that it was “very important” for England to be managed by an Englishman.
Wenger has clearly been enthused by Arsenal’s recent form but again stressed that he will not have a role in choosing his eventual successor. “I think it’s very important in a club that everybody does what they are paid for,” he told beIN Sports. “The board’s responsibility will be to choose the next manager. That’s not my job. If they ask my opinion I will give it in an honest way. But it will not be me who chooses.”
Wenger has also dismissed interest in Hector Bellerin from both Barcelona – his full-back’s hometown club - and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Bellerin signed a new contract worth around £40,000 a week last summer but Arsenal are now ready to double his wages in an attempt to persuade him to commit his future beyond the next three years.
Arsenal will again be without Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey against Swansea City on Saturday following respective toe and hamstring injuries, with both players now undergoing their own replica of a pre-season training programme in order to be fully fit again towards the end of October.