There was an initial whiff of mischief from Arsene Wenger when he was asked whether Alexis Sanchez’s comments that he wanted to stay in London but play for a team “with as winning mentality” meant the Arsenal striker was prepared to move to Chelsea.
“There’s only one team in London, so he’s happy,” Wenger said. Undoubtedly after his two decades, after his dogged, almost now singular, argument that he can achieve greatness again with Arsenal – and because of that he will sign the two-year contract extension on the table - Wenger believes.
“I think personally he’s happy here,” he maintained, even if all the indications are – with the likes of Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus having already held talks with his representatives – that Sanchez’s preference is to leave. Chelsea’s interest is less sure but they have always liked the idea of taking players from Arsenal as they did with Ashley Cole.
“It’s true that we have not extended his contract yet,” Wenger said of Sanchez. “I hope that he will stay at the club but overall I think you have as well to be very cautious when people give interviews in their home countries.”
Ah, that old chestnut. Sanchez was speaking on international duty, with Chile, and although his words are open to interpretation anyone who is cognisant with Arsenal knows they still face a fight on their hands to persuade him to stay.
“I don’t see anything in that – he said he wants to win the championship, that’s what everybody wants. I can understand that completely,” Wenger argued while intimating again that the club is prepared for both Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to go into the final year of their current contracts rather than sell them. Talks are on hold until the end of this campaign.
“I think once you go into the final two or three months of the season, everybody is more focused on the end of the season and you give yourself more time in a more relaxed atmosphere between the two seasons,” Wenger said. “They are not out-of-contract at the end of the season. I personally believe that both of them want to stay and I hope that the club will find an agreement with them.”
Arsenal are, undoubtedly, in a more robust place financially than in the days when they could prevent players such as Samir Nasri, Robin Van Persie and Cole leaving – which is partly why Sanchez and Ozil are demanding top dollar – with Wenger adding: “That is true that it happened before when we were in positions where we had to sell financially our best players.”
Contract talk, inevitably, also centres on Wenger’s own future and there was an incremental update on his statement following the defeat to West Bromwich Albion that he has made his mind up: in other words, although those words were not quite prised out of him, he is staying.
“Not today,” Wenger said when asked. “But I am very clear in my mind. Anyway, do I stay two months or two years my commitment will be the same.
“I’ve always been very clear and I will remain like that but it’s a subject that is not completely sorted out.” Asked what needed to be “sorted out” and Wenger refused to elaborate. “I don’t want to answer that debate again,” he said although there was a pointed remark that Arsenal’s players should not use any uncertainty to explain their poor run of form which has left Champions League qualification in jeopardy.
“The priority in life is always to focus on what is important and not to look for excuses,” Wenger said. “Being professional is to perform on the football pitch and not to find escape excuses where I think there are not.
“Their job is to perform and for me to help them to perform and to develop as players. That is what matters, really. Intelligence in life is to focus on what is important and that’s why I believe what is important for a football player is to give absolutely everything to help the club and the team to perform. Especially in difficult periods, you need to see the difference of quality between people, with those who can focus on what really matters and what really matters at the moment is to stick tighter and show that we care about the end of our season, about this club and about our values that we stand up for.”
With that he confirmed that Santi Cazorla will not play again this season and that Petr Cech is out of Sunday’s clash at home to Manchester City.
Wenger in good spirits
The Arsenal manager was surprisingly cheery during this morning's presser. It wasn't exactly a grilling, but the media in attendance did keep pushing Wenger's buttons over his future.
Wenger did not get agitated by the continuous pressing but merely made light of the ongoing soap opera. He reiterated that he has come to a final decision in his mind but that "it is a subject that is not completely sorted".
He also laughed off Alexis Sanchez's quotes that he wanted to "stay in London but with a team that's winning things". Wenger's response was merely to say "there is only one club in London".
Wenger added that he didn't see anything negative in the quotes Sanchez gave during his time away with Chile and added a word of caution that sometimes comments can be lost in translation.
Again we are left unclear over Wenger's next move but the Frenchman looked like a man who had removed the heaving weight on his shoulders.
This international break has done wonders for his spirits, but how about his team? We will find out on Sunday.
Wenger pressed on future - again
"I don't talk about my future that much. I have nothing more to say.
"You want to force me to talk about something I don't want to talk about." (Wenger laughs again but much louder)
Wenger on West Brom defeat
"It was the kind of game you get in England. We had blind possession, we didn't have enough goal chances. We were caught where West Brom are strong where usually we are quite good defending set pieces. It's difficult to say. I agree that something was missing there."
Wenger on Pep
"I respect him as a manager. He's had an exceptional career. When he's been at Man City for 20 years will he get the same treatment?" (Cue more laughter from Wenger again).
Wenger on VARs
"I watched the game against France. I thought we are really stupid. Why did that not happen 15 years ago? It shows the football world is a regression world that is scared to more forward.
"If you looked at that game it showed that it would have had a different conclusion because France would've won that game. It would create more justice (using video technology), it can definitely cut out the influence and desire to corrupt referees which goes on across the world."
Wenger pressed on future again...
"I have to focus on what's important."
Wenger on Iwobi backing
"It's nice but I want the players to focus on their jobs to perform. What is important for a football player is to perform on the pitch to help the club and team. In difficult periods you need to show you care about us and the values the club stands up for."
Are current team good enough?
"It's a strange season. Our offensive numbers are very good but I cannot sit here and we have no flaws or weaknesses in our team because we do.
"We have a strong foundation but the team needs to be strengthened, of course."
Wenger pressed on future again...
Wenger asked 'is the delay causing instability at the club: "I think not."
He adds: "The priority for us is what is going on on the pitch."
On Arsenal going forward this season
"We have two games in hand, the games are coming up thick and fast. Our season will be decided over the next two months. We had a deficit at West Brom so our future will be decided by our mental qualities."
Ozil on German saying he's a 'scapegoat'
"It's a price to pay when you're a big player. When you're a big player you are sometimes unfairly treated. It works both ways. When things go well sometimes you get more praise. When it doesn't you get more stick than you deserve."
"He has one and a half years left on his contract. There are no immediate concerns over Sanchez's future.
"I personally think that both Sanchez and Ozil both want to stay and the club just need to come to an agreement with them."
So Arsene Wenger just said "there is only one club in London."
Antonio Conte be like.. pic.twitter.com/iwQx8A0VTV
— showmethemoney (@smtm_LFC) March 30, 2017
What about Sanchez's future after his quotes?
Wenger: "There's only one team in London so it means Sanchez is very happy." (Cue much laughter in the media room).
"I hope he will stay at the club. He was right to be cautious. When people give interviews in their home countries the interpretation is not what it always what he wanted to say. I don't see anything negative in what he said. He wants to win the Champions League, I can understand completely what he says."
Arsene Wenger needs to retire, big man thinks there's only one team in London, how's he gonna disrespect Fulham like that?
— Airon. (@Rationings) March 30, 2017
Will Wenger reveal his future today?
"Not today but I'm very clear in my mind. It is a subject that is not sorted completely. Do I stay two months or two years, my commitment will be exactly the same. The amount of time I've spent here does not influence my time or attitude."
On Man City
Wenger: It promises to be a very positive attacking game. They go for it. We go for it.
Sanchez knock update
Wenger: Sanchez just had a kick (on Chilean duty). Cazorla, unfortunately it looks like his season is over.
Wenger is here
Here we go
Wenger closing in on two-year deal
Reports and rumours are gathering pace this morning that Wenger has indeed agreed a new two-year deal at the club.
According to one story, Wenger has used the international break to meet with club officials to reveal his hand.
That decision is that he wants to firm down his new £8m-a-year agreement before signing on the dotted line.
It's a story that we ran before the international break got into full swing with our deputy football correspondent Jeremy Wilson and midlands reporter John Percy revealing that Wenger had finally made up his mind to stay at the club.
Pires: Wenger has hunger and desire to stay
Robert Pires believes Wenger will renew his contract for at least one more season.
Pires is more accustomed than most to have his say given he now works as a coach at the club.
The Frenchman, who was part of Arsenal's 'Invincibles' squad, also thinks Wenger has the hunger and desire to stay on. He told Spanish radio station Cadena SER.
"In my opinion, he will renew his contract, at least for one season. He is motivated and willing.
"Arsene has an offer on the table. He has to sign it. He has the backing of the owner. The fans want to win the title and Arsenal are not doing that well. They are in the FA Cup semi-finals.
"He has to continue and if he does, he needs to change many things. That is the most important thing for him and for Arsenal.
"We will see what happens."
'Wenger is a great man'
Of course you don't expect anything less than to have the full backing of your players when your future is being discussed, but Alex Iwobi has gone the extra mile in his appraisal of Wenger.
"He's a great man, in my opinion. I'd like him to stay. He's always helped me and developed me as player.
"I don't think it's fair the way everybody criticises him. It's very unfair considering what he's done.
"He's always achieved fourth place, been in the Champions League and been up there with the title contenders."
What about Sanchez?
Alexis Sanchez's future will also be a key topic for discussion. The Chilean appears to have been flirting with the enemy - or Chelsea to give them their full name - when asked about his own future while on international duty.
"I am happy in London and hope to finish my contract there. I'd like to stay in the city but with a team that is winning things, that has a winning mentality. I'm 28 years old, I still have a lot of years ahead of me. I am a player who looks after himself."
If Sanchez does leave, Arsenal would prefer to sell to a club outside the Premier League with PSG and Juventus among the front runners. Sanchez could refuse to sign a new deal and make it clear that he only has one club he wants to join in England and more specifically in London.
Arsenal have been burned before by that situation when Robin van Persie left for Manchester United in 2012. Van Persie ended up leaving for £24m rather than Arsenal losing him for nothing the following summer.
Wenger prepares to tell all - or does he?
Morning all. Do not despair. The end of the international break is in sight. The return of the Premier League is upon us and the continuing soap opera surrounding Arsene Wenger and his Arsenal future is back with a vengeance.
This morning Wenger speaks to the press ahead of Arsenal's clash with Manchester City this weekend.
Intriguing Wenger is holding his presser on Thursday even though his side don't play until Sunday afternoon at the Emirates. Should we be reading anything into this?
Could today really be the day that Wenger reveals his hand? Is today the da, da, da, da Eastenders style finale we have all been waiting for? Watch this space.