Arsenal boss Wenger pleads for his future with Gunners
Arsenal 2 Chelsea 1
Arsene Wenger has told the Arsenal board to simply "watch the game" in their meeting this week after Saturday's 2-1 FA Cup final win over Chelsea, as there will then be "no doubt" he is the right man for the job.
The words represent the 67-year-old's strongest statement yet on his future, a situation that remains up in the air after a season that ended with Arsenal finishing in fifth but still winning the FA Cup with a supreme display, in a match that is the last of his current contract.
It is understood there has been a shift in mood after a good run towards the end of the campaign and the club hierarchy now want Wenger to stay and sign a new two-year deal, with Wenger himself wishing to remain, but that there is still a political stand-off over the situation and elements of the role as the board understandably want to prepare for the future.
With the stance at Arsenal over the last few months that any decision would be "mutual", those close to the French boss say that he does not want to be offered a new deal on the basis of sentimentality, but because it is felt he is the best option for the job. That has seen Wenger effectively speak in code on his future for much of the past few months, but also use some of his press conferences to leverage the situation as well as publicly offer criticism of plans like the introduction of a director of football, and he re-iterated on Saturday that any decision should be about "competence" and not "popularity" - another reminder to not bow to pressure from more animated parts of the Emirates support.
The Arsenal board will meet on Tuesday, before taking their decision to Wenger.
Again wearying of having to answer questions on an issue that remains undecided, Wenger did once more admit it should have been solved for the benefit of the team.
"Look, this season, I think usually we have no sagas. The media every press conference an issue of it [my future]. I don't think it should affect the media so much. I don't change my commitment. I worked until the last day of my contract. That is today, basically. I think I have shown you that I have exactly the same commitment. So, for me, the contract does not have a special meaning. But, because of the debate, I should have sorted that out earlier."
Wenger revealed after the 2-1 win that he is breaking the habit of his career and keeping his medal rather than giving it away, with that leading to further speculation that he was doing so because it is a last memento before he leaves. The Arsenal manager, however, said he was keeping this one because it was the record-breaking seventh, and intimated this win was all the sweeter because of the doubt he suffered when Diego Costa equalised Alexis Sanchez's controversial opening goal, just before Aaron Ramsey headed the winner to deny Chelsea a league and FA Cup double.
"It's absolutely fantastic. I've won a few doubles and I know that when a team is on a high, to break that takes something special. When they equalised, I thought; 'here we are'. That will give them momentum and we will feel guilty, they would take advantage and I was worried at that stage. It means the intensity of the emotions. You go out there today, when can you get that, you know? Or in the semi-final. I think it's a special day for a football club… and it should be a great night, it's just the explosion of the passion of people."
Asked how he managed to rally the Arsenal side for what was arguably their best performance in the last half-decade, let alone the season, Wenger said he told the players "just to be focused on what is important, our futures, the future of the club and no matter if I stay or not they play for their futures".
ARSENAL: Ospina, Holding, Mertesacker, Monreal, Bellerin, Ramsey, Xhaka, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Coquelin, 82 mins), Sanchez (Elneny, 90 mins), Ozil, Welbeck (Giroud, 78 mins). Unused subs: Cech, Iwobi, Perez, Walcott.
CHELSEA: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Luiz, Cahill, Moses, Kante, Matic (Fabregas, 61 mins), Alonso, Pedro (Willian, 72 mins), Costa (Batshuayi, 88 mins), Hazard. Unused subs: Begovic, Zouma, Ake, Terry.
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Man of the Match: Per Mertesacker
Match rating: 8/10