Belfast Telegraph

Arsene Wenger urges Arsenal fans not to boycott Sunderland game

Arsene Wenger has called on Arsenal fans to attend Tuesday's game against Sunderland rather than participate in a boycott aimed at removing him as manager.

The 67-year-old has still yet to announce whether he will sign at new contract at the Emirates Stadium to stay beyond the end of the current campaign.

Arsenal have just three games remaining before that point - two home Premier League clashes against the Black Cats and Everton, before an FA Cup final date with newly-crowned champions Chelsea.

After Liverpool's 4-0 win at West Ham on Sunday a place in the Premier League top four, and qualification for next season's Champions League, is now out of Arsenal's hands.

They need the Reds to fail to beat relegated Middlesbrough at Anfield on Sunday to realistically stand any chance of maintaining Wenger's record of never finishing outside of the top four in a full season at the helm.

But even if the Gunners do upset the odds by reaching the Champions League, a number of fan groups are still calling for Wenger's near 21-year reign to come to an end.

Following recent measures such as protest marches, staying away from the Emirates before kick-off and flying planes carrying anti-Wenger slogans over stadiums, those groups now want to stage a mass boycott of the Sunderland fixture.

In a statement released on onlinegooner.com, the group listed the likes of Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone and Max Allegri of Juventus as preferred alternatives to Wenger - before asking for fans to stay away on Tuesday night.

"We are calling on fans that feel the same way to boycott tomorrow evening's match against Sunderland," the statement read.

"Please consider joining us in this boycott. Don't sell your seat to a tourist or give it to a mate. Let yours be one of the many gaps in the stands that send a direct and unarguable message to the directors. You do not want to watch any more of the same old same old.

"If you are in any doubt, look at our season and compare that to Chelsea, Juventus and Atletico Madrid. We are a bigger club than all three of them but we are being held back by a greedy owner and a past it manager.

"By doing this, we can send a message to Stan Kroenke and Arsene Wenger that Arsenal should be doing so much better."

A number of empty seats have been visible at Arsenal's recent home wins over Leicester and Manchester United, with some supporters already opting to steer clear.

But Wenger, who again dodged the question over his own future, wants to see Arsenal fans back his side.

"My message is always the same, it is to support the team," he said.

Pushed on the recent trend of empty seats, Wenger claimed those matches were sell-outs, as Arsenal judge attendance on tickets sold before the event rather than the number of supporters inside the stadium.

"Yes, but that doesn't mean we are not sold out," he replied when asked about the empty seats.

"I think we are always sold out so I don't know where you get that impression."

Wenger's side have enjoyed a resurgence of late and have won six of their last seven games - including an extra-time victory over Manchester City in their FA Cup semi-final meeting.

The only defeat came to north London rivals Tottenham, who on Sunday beat Manchester United in the last match at White Hart Lane to secure a second-placed finish.

Arsenal were runners-up to surprise champions Leicester last season but could end this campaign outside the top four despite the prospect of collecting more points than 12 months ago.

Asked about their chances of gate-crashing the Champions League places, Wenger said: "Our chances depend on winning our games. We have 69 points, we can get to 75.

"That will be four points more than last year, so let's focus on finishing as well as we can. We have created a momentum again. We had a difficult period and we recovered from it. The only chance we have to be in the top four is to win our games."

A convincing 4-1 win at Stoke on Saturday kept those slim chances alive, although Arsenal are now sweating over the fitness of Laurent Koscielny and Alexis Sanchez ahead of the visit of bottom club Sunderland.

"Koscielny has a little recurrence of his calf problem which kept him out against Southampton. Alexis has a kick on his thigh," Wenger explained.

"Sanchez will have a test today. Yesterday it didn't look too good, but with him you never know. He's so keen. Maybe it was just a kick. It could be a possibility that he recovers for tomorrow."

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