Sunday 25 February 2018

Wenger 'situation' contributed to Gunners' problems

Doubtful: Wenger. Photo: Getty Images
Doubtful: Wenger. Photo: Getty Images

Jeremy Wilson

Arsene Wenger has admitted for the first time that uncertainty over his future contributed to Arsenal's failings this season and told fans to blame him rather than majority owner Stan Kroenke for falling out of the Champions League.

Supporters chanted "Stan Kroenke, we want you to go" during an ultimately futile 3-1 win against Everton but Wenger says that the key mistakes were made elsewhere and, as well as cryptic references to unspecified off-field issues, he pointed to the wider atmosphere.

"We played since January in a very difficult environment for different reasons," he said. "That is very difficult for the group of players to cope with. Some other reasons we will talk about another day. But the psychological environment for the players was absolutely horrendous. It has been difficult. Certainly my personal situation has contributed to that."

Of the anti-Kroenke chants, Wenger said: "I respect Stan Kroenke a lot. He is not at fault if we did not reach the Champions League. It is the technical department who is responsible for that. I don't see what he has to do with that."

Wenger did not take his usual part in the traditional lap of appreciation to mark the end of the season but said "no, not at all" when asked if he was saying farewell. "The players have been disturbed enough," he said. "I was out there, to show respect, but I wanted the players to have the quiet lap of honour they deserved. I am very proud of what they have done; the way they responded and finished the season."

Wenger accepted responsibility for how the uncertainty over whether he would sign a new contract had harmed the general mood but could not explain why there is still no clarity or when his team had been most impacted.

"We won seven of the last eight games, despite the lack of clarity," he said. "It's a good question. I will give you an answer one day but not today. It's not the moment to speak about some different things. There's nothing bad. I protect nobody. My situation will be sorted soon."

Although fifth was Wenger's lowest finish, a total of 75 points has actually only been bettered by Arsenal eight times in the previous 25 Premier League seasons. Despite the 18-point gap to Chelsea, Wenger remains adamant that the team are "not far away" from winning the Premier League and that major squad surgery is not necessary. "They won 23 games," he said. "And in the unbeaten year they won 26. We lost too many games. That was down to a period where we weren't stable defensively, and unsettled mentally as well by the exit, the way it happened, against Bayern Munich.

"This group of players is good enough to come back. They have gone through difficult periods this season and they have bounced back in a very strong way.

"That will help them absolutely next season but first, I think we have to keep 90 per cent of these players together, and find one or two more players who strengthen the group. We don't need many."

Wenger has paved the way to stay on for another two years after indicating that he would be prepared for some structural changes and yesterday also received backing from his old rival Alex Ferguson.

"There's no evidence that sacking a manager brings success, but there is evidence that Arsene Wenger, myself and Brian Clough can bring success with long-termism," said Ferguson. "At the moment, the ridiculous situation with the sort of pressure that Arsene is under, I wonder, do they realise the job Arsene has done?

"He has come through a forest of criticism for months now and he has never bowed. He has sailed right through. He has shown a determination, a stubbornness. That is a quality.

"I'm not sure they'll ever get another manager like that. It's quite easy to say, 'Get rid of him', but who are they going to get who is going to keep that club the way they are, the way they've been for 20 years.

"I feel sorry for him, because he's shown outstanding qualities in how he's handled the situation. I don't know many that could have done that." (© Daily Telegraph).

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