Wenger does not have top-four target
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Arsenal boss discusses Champions League chase
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger insists he has not been set the target of a top-four finish this season.
The 67-year-old is still to announce whether he will remain at the Emirates Stadium beyond the end of the campaign and said he is “not scared” as protests against his reign continue.
Wenger has never finished outside the Premier League top four since taking over in September 1996 but, with just one league win since February, the Gunners now sit sixth.
A handful of fans displayed banners at the entrance to the club’s London Colney training ground on Tuesday morning after a third pre-match protest ahead of Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Manchester City.
But Wenger continues to wait to publicly declare if he will sign a new deal or depart at the end of the campaign, although he has said the decision is made.
“I have answered that question many times,” he said. “I can understand that you ask again. Don’t worry, you will get that (answer) soon.”
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It now appears that qualifying for the Champions League by finishing in the top four is not a prerequisite for either Wenger or the Arsenal board.
Asked if he had been set a specific target, the Frenchman replied: “No. I tell myself to finish as high as possible. It (finishing in the top four) is a good challenge but I think it’s perfectly possible.
“Certainly for 20 years I have done it and it looked always like it’s nothing. Suddenly it becomes important, so I am quite pleased that people realise that it’s not as easy as it looks.
“If you listen to (Manchester City manager) Pep Guardiola, he said the other day that to achieve the top four in England is a trophy because it’s so difficult.
“Of course we have a difficult task in front of us, but I am happy as well that people realise suddenly that it’s not as easy as it looked always.”
Wenger feels his years of guiding the Gunners into the top four will help achieve the same feat this season, even if they are seven points adrift ahead of the visit of struggling West Ham.
“The experience will play a part, of course, but I think it is just about sticking together and continuing to fight,” he added.
“If we show the same spirit we showed against City, we will win games. We have played 20 games unbeaten this season, and I think it’s a good opportunity to remind people we are not fighting to not go down, we are fighting to have a positive end to the season.
“That’s why you want the fans to stand behind the team and that the debate at the moment is about that. Let’s finish as strong as we can and show that we have some resilience, some quality and some mental spirit that we have shown against City.”
Before the 2-2 draw with City, fans protested outside the stadium, displaying banners, handing out leaflets and parking a van outside Arsenal underground station carrying anti-Wenger quotes.
That followed two pre-match marches last month, while a banner was flown over the Hawthorns calling for Wenger to leave, although that message was offset by a pro-Wenger banner also taking to the skies as West Brom beat Arsenal 3-1.
A small number of protesters turned up on the edge of Arsenal’s training ground on Tuesday, one dressed up as Wenger.
But the man himself, who labelled the support for his side inside the stadium on Sunday as “absolutely outstanding”, refused to be drawn into discussing the ongoing calls for him to leave.
“I’m not in politics,” he said. “It’s not about majority or minority. You just want our fans to stand behind the team and the club, and that’s what they did. I’ve said many times, it’s not about me.
“I love to win football games and I just focus on that. I lead with the values I think are important in life. I work for my club with honesty and integrity, and I’m not scared (of any criticism).
“I always accept the judgement of people, and I just focus on what I think is important in the game. That’s it.
“I care about Arsenal, about the club, about what we have achieved and what we want to achieve. That’s what you want to do. I will support Arsenal when I’m not here any more exactly the same (as I do now). What you want is the fans to stand behind the team.
“I wish just to dedicate my energy to football and the next game, and leave my own personal case out of the debate. What is important, I think if I’ve shown one thing in my 20 years, it’s that I care about Arsenal, I care about the next game, and I will continue to do that as long as I’m here.
“I am professional and when you are professional, you perform in ideal conditions and non-ideal conditions as well.”