Arsenal’s players admitted on Sunday that they have let down Arsene Wenger at times this season but say that they now want to win the FA Cup for their 67-year-old manager.
Wenger is now just 90 minutes away from an all-time record seventh competition win but of even greatest significance yesterday was the manner of a gritty 2-1 victory against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City that has eased the pressure surrounding his future.
"We have let him [Wenger] down at times this season; we want to win it for him,” said midfielder Aaron Ramsey. "We have something to look forward to but now we have another seven cup finals to try and get into the top four.”
Wenger said that he felt “proud” of his players and believes that the club have also gone some way to answering what have been deepening doubts about whether they can deliver on the big occasions against the very best opposition.
“It was a big test for us - it was a mental test,” he said. “We were in a fragile position. Many people questioned that. Can we turn up on an occasion like that? I am very proud for the players. They showed a united, determined and playful response.
“Football is a team sport and, as manager, your biggest joy is when you feel you have a real team performance and that was the case. Also, when you see the stands and see how big this club is, I just feel happy when the fans go home happy. We have gone through a very difficult period. We faced some adversity that made the situation more difficult from inside as well. We showed a united response not a divided response.”
Wenger has denied that the FA Cup will decide his future but he does want to stay on next season and, while a top four finish still remains an outside hope, the prospect of an FA Cup final against Chelsea should take the edge of recent tensions. Arsenal are working towards changes in the structure around Wenger but final confirmation of a two year contract remains unlikely until after the FA Cup final on May 27.
“I feel the club is in a very strong shape; we have a very strong overall situation and a very strong team,” said Wenger. “That, for me, is the most important. One day I will leave anyway. I’m sure Arsenal will always be a great club that everyone admires.”
Arsenal have also now won consecutive matches since switching to a back three and, ahead of a home match on Wednesday against Leicester and then Sunday’s derby with Tottenham, Wenger senses that confidence is finally returning following what was a nightmare run.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was named man of the match after another impressive wing-back performance and, although he hobbled out of Wembley last night, he was simply suffering from cramp. “I'm tired, but delighted,” said Oxlade-Chamberlain. “Our league form has not been good enough but this was something we can hold on to.”