London (AFP) – Beleaguered Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said on Tuesday a top four finish and a place in the Champions League is a realistic target for his stuttering team.
But the 67-year-old Frenchman admitted his team — presently sixth and seven points off the Champions League places with a game in hand on fourth-placed Manchester City — have their work cut out.
“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,” said Wenger.
“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.”
Wenger’s future at the club he has managed for over two decades has become an increasingly febrile topic among fans — with video footage appearing to show some fighting each other on Sunday when the Gunners fought back twice to secure a 2-2 draw with Manchester City.
Having guided Arsenal to three Premier League titles, although none since 2004, Wenger is yet to declare whether he will stay and sign a new two year contract or leave.
The board is believed to be keen for Wenger — who has coached Arsenal to a top four finish every season he has been there — to re-sign but have also demanded he make changes to his backroom staff.
This season has been an especially tough one for Wenger with his side fading from title contention and humiliated in the Champions League by Bayern Munich.
Uncertainty about the futures of Chilean star Alexis Sanchez — who has cast a glum figure of late — and German World Cup winning playmaker Mesut Ozil has also affected the club.
– ‘Not in politics’ –
However, ahead of Wednesday’s clash with West Ham, Wenger insisted that his achievement in guiding Arsenal into the top four year after year should not be underplayed.
“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,” said the Frenchman.
“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, who has equated retiring with dying, said he would not comment on the debate amongst fans about whether he should stay or go.
“I’m not in politics,” said Wenger, who described the support of the fans on Sunday as outstanding.
“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 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.”
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