Saturday 17 March 2018

Wenger committed to 'club of my life'

Norwich City 1, Arsenal 2, Jeremy Wilson

The Arsenal board have stressed that they want Arsene Wenger to remain at the club until at least 2014 and, crucially, that his future does not hinge on qualifying for next season's Champions League.

The declaration follows the candid admission from Wenger that he would consider his position at the end of the season if he felt he had underachieved.

Wenger is not a man who normally does public self-doubt in any form and so, after the most difficult year of his career, it was revealing to hear him talk with such honesty about his future. Yet the key subsequent point was that he believes Arsenal are now on the right track following a run of 10 wins in 12 games, and that he does intend to see out a contract that expires at the end of the 2013-14 season.

Significantly, the support of the club remains solid and there is a sense at board level that Wenger is sometimes overly self-critical and can take too much responsibility on his shoulders.

Directors, including majority owner Stan Kroenke, are also sympathetic to the challenging circumstances that Wenger faced at the beginning of the season following the sales of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas. They have been delighted by the recent turnaround and, although a 16th consecutive top-four finish is the clear target, the board do not regard Wenger's future as contingent on achieving that aim.

Wenger was not specific on Saturday about what he now constitutes success and, while the situation remains brittle, his renewed optimism was also evident. "This is the club of my life," he said. "I am completely committed to the club and I will show you that at the end of the season."

So, as he embarks on a new project with a new team, is it time to realign ambitions?

"I don't think so," he said. "I feel personally and honestly I'm very happy with the players we bought. We have had our backs to the wall. Until now we were always planning. At the start of this season, for the first time, we were in the urgency because we had to make quick, not long-planned, decisions. It worked, but it could as well not have worked."

Of the new signings, Mikel Arteta and Andre Santos are clearly settling well. The biggest question-mark surrounds Per Mertesacker, who was easily muscled off the ball for Steve Morison to put Norwich in front on Saturday. The Norwich goal was completely against the run of play. For Arsenal, Robin van Persie produced a simple finish to equalise from Theo Walcott's cross, and then an exquisite chip to seal victory.

It made Van Persie only the fifth player, after Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Les Ferdinand, to score 30 Premier League goals in a calendar year.

It is concerning that Walcott, in the form of his life, and Van Persie are reluctant to publicly express their desire to stay.

For Norwich, the ambition remains Premier League survival, and there was still encouragement to be taken from only their second home defeat of the season. "At both ends, you've got to be clinical and decisive," said manager Paul Lambert. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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