London (AFP) – Arsene Wenger dismissed protests from Arsenal fans seeking his removal as manager and called on his players to focus instead on the club’s push for Champions League football next season.
An emphatic 4-1 win at Stoke kept the Gunners in contention for a top four finish and a 21st consecutive season of elite European football.
But while Wenger’s name was sung out heartily by supporters inside Stoke’s stadium early in the game a plane flew overhead carrying a banner calling for the Frenchman not to return next season.
“When you say fans, who do you mean? The rich ones?” said Wenger when asked for his reaction.
“Look, I am paid to do my job for the club I love and I will do that as long as I’m here with full commitment. I’m not influenced by that at all, all I do is give my best.
“We have 69 points today so let’s make 72 on Tuesday and after that I will give my best for as long as I’m here for the values of this club and for the club.
“I want to focus on football and the rest is less important. I’m not in politics. I’m in sport, I love sport and give my 24 hours a day for what I love. I am in a public job, some agree with me, some not.”
Earlier in the day, reports in France had even suggested that Wenger has already agreed a one-year deal to remain in charge at the Emirates, but the 67-year-old refused to confirm or deny the claim.
“There’s no information about that,” said Wenger. “Nothing.”
Arsenal’s fifth win in six games lifted them to within a point of fourth-placed Liverpool although Wenger insisted he was only focused on Tuesday’s meeting with Sunderland and the final game of the season against Everton.
“We have 69 points tonight so we have come through a difficult period in March,” said Wenger.
“At the moment we have consistency and let’s finish well. We have a big game on Tuesday, we play every three days.
“I don’t think like that about our chances. I think let’s do our job and go to 72 on Tuesday and focus to win the game. Sunderland have nothing to lose.”
– Out-played –
The victory featured two goals from Olivier Giroud and efforts from Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez although Arsenal faced an anxious period in the second half after Peter Crouch pulled the score back to 2-1 with a goal that owed much to an obvious handball from the Stoke substitute.
After the game, Wenger even referred to his team having kept a “clean sheet” so convinced was he that the Stoke goal should not have stood.
“What do you think?” smiled Wenger when asked if that was why he referred to a “clean sheet”.
“I was suspicious of the noise of the ball. I got to the fourth official after it had been confirmed. I was surprised he got to the ball when I saw his position, then people told me it was handball.”
The decisive third Sanchez goal was all the more important given that the Chilean appeared about to be replaced due to injury.
“I didn’t plan to take him off, he asked to come off,” explained Wenger. “I thought he had done a stomach muscle so it might go away and I could see how he responds.
“After that he stayed on and scored another goal. Sanchez is a fighter and finds resources always. He delivered the third goal and that basically made the difference.”
Stoke manager Mark Hughes, who had not lost in eight home league games against Wenger, with five different clubs, conceded his team were completely out-played.
“We gave good players too much time to get their heads up and make incisive passes and their two opening goals were similar in that respect,” said Hughes.
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