Belfast Telegraph

Wenger set to outline future as Arsenal slump against West Brom

West Brom 3 Arsenal 1

By Simon Hart

His mind, he says, is made up about his future and for Arsène Wenger, it has nothing at all to do with Arsenal's prospects of finishing in the top four or not in May.

Wenger, speaking after his team's 3-1 defeat at West Bromwich Albion, suggested that he knew his decision on his future and would announce it "very soon" - and it's understood the Frenchman is poised to reveal he plans to stay put.

"I take a bigger perspective than that - it is not the last result that decides," said Wenger, whose side ended the weekend further adrift than ever from the Champions League places in sixth spot, level on points with seventh-placed Everton and six points adrift of fourth-placed Liverpool.

"It will not necessarily be linked with that. I've done the top four 20 times, it is not that."

Wenger's comments will not end the guessing game over his future - the latest rumour is of a one-year deal, rather than the two-year extension originally offered - but whether it is the Frenchman or another manager at the Arsenal helm in August, they are unlikely to have Champions League football to plan for on the evidence of Saturday.

Yet Wenger believes Arsenal could cope with an absence from the Champions League, a competition in which they have participated for each of the last 19 seasons. "Financially the Champions League does not have the impact that it had five, six years ago because of the influx of the television money," said the 67-year-old whose club earned £100.95m from the Premier League last season compared with £48.5million from the Champions League.

Wenger also addressed the supporter discontent on display at the Hawthorns on Saturday, where 'Wenger out' banners and chants were respectively seen and heard in the away end, and two planes - one pro, the other anti - circled the skies overhead. "I don't judge other people," he said. "I give my best and as long as I will be at the club if it's for two more years, if it's for 10 more years, if it's for one month… it's not the difference. Everybody has to look at himself."

Whatever the arguments for and against, the circus now surrounding a man who has spent 21 years at Arsenal even led his old adversary Tony Pulis, the West Bromwich Albion manager, to speak up in his defence. "I will say this," said Pulis. "I will think he is the greatest manager Arsenal have ever had."

That may be so but his current Arsenal team were second-best in every department bar one - possession - on Saturday. Arsenal could not handle Albion's counterattacking game, and nor, moreover, their set-pieces, which led to two headed goals from centre-back Craig Dawson.

Alan Shearer on Match of the Day accused Arsenal of defending like an "Under-10 team". Pulis had his own more detailed explanation of their set-piece failings: "They mark [with] five players across the six-yard box and have two players who try and block your runners. So if you get away from one of the blocks you are running at a standing object and someone with a standing jump working against a person with a running jump, I'll bet my bottom dollar the person with the running jump will score. We've worked on that but you have to have someone who wants to head it."

Unlike Albion, who have now equalled last season's points' total of 43, Arsenal had no one with that necessary desire. And not just at set-plays. "We need to fight," said Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but actions speak louder than words and right now his players' lack of fight leaves Wenger looking a lonely man.

WEST BROM: Foster, Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Nyom, Livermore , Fletcher, Chadli (Field, 90 mins), Brunt 8 (Yacob, 72 mins), McClean, Rondon 6 (Robson-Kanu, 54 mins). Unused subs: Myhill, Olsson, Wilson, Leko.

ARSENAL: Cech (Ospina, 38 mins), Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Xhaka, Walcott (Giroud, 65 mins), Ramsey, Sanchez (Iwobi, 78 mins), Welbeck 5. Unused subs: Mertesacker, Gabriel, Coquelin, Elneny.

Referee: Neil Swarbrick

Man of the match: Craig Dawson

Match rating: 7/10

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