Monday 20 January 2020

Wenger orders Van Persie to sort out future

Jeremy Wilson

ARSENE WENGER has told Robin van Persie that his future must be finalised before the start of Euro 2012.

Van Persie is due to join up with the Dutch squad on May 17 and, with the Premier League season finishing four days earlier, that leaves Arsenal with only a short window to resolve the situation.

The club are ready to make Van Persie the highest-paid player in their history. If he declines the offer of a new contract, they will stick with their 'Plan B' of holding him to the final year of his contract, even though he could then leave for nothing in 2013.

Wenger stressed that he had no concerns with Van Persie visiting the Barcelona team hotel last Monday night to meet Cesc Fabrages and Holland team-mate Ibrahim Afellay for dinner.

Van Persie will play his 50th game of the season when Arsenal face Chelsea today and, tomorrow, he is expected to be named as the Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Season.

"For a striker to play 50 games is massive," said Wenger. "It's beyond expectation. He has a very healthy life and is very focused on football. He is like Thierry Henry in that respect."

Wenger is only too well aware of the importance of today's match. If there is one consequence of Chelsea's win over Barcelona last Wednesday that no manager involved in the battle to secure a Champions League place has missed, it is that securing fourth in the Premier League this season might not be good enough for entry into Europe's elite competition next season.

The prospect of Chelsea finishing outside the top four but winning the Champions League, as Liverpool did in 2005, remains a long shot but then long shots are what managers are paid to keep their eye on.

A win for Arsenal in today's lunchtime kick-off would carry even more significance than it might have done before the first leg of the Champions League semi-final at Stamford Bridge.

Of course, a demolition of Chelsea at the Nou Camp next Tuesday would end all such talk but, should Chelsea make it to the final in Munich, then the picture would change.

When Liverpool won the trophy in 2005, special dispensation was made to allow five English clubs to enter the competition the following season. Since then, however, the rules were tightened and now defending champions who finish outside the top four take precedence over the team that finishes fourth.

"It's right the Champions League winners have the right to defend the trophy," said Wenger. "That it takes qualification away from the fourth place is unfortunate. Ideally, you would like to combine the two."

What if it were Arsenal in fourth place who lost out to a Chelsea team that won the Champions League? "We would not be happy but it's the rules and we have to accept it. We cannot change the rules just because it's us."

Wenger was surprisingly complimentary about Chelsea's approach to the Barca game, declaring: "They were very good at what they decided to do and they decided to defend."

However, he had little sympathy for Roberto di Matteo's team having to play four games in 10 days. "It's part of being successful. We have done that many times," he said. (© Independent News Service)

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