Arsène Wenger wants to stay on at Arsenal beyond the end of the season and remains convinced that he can lead the club out of their worst period in his 21 years as manager.
Wenger revealed after Saturday’s chastening defeat at West Bromwich Albion that he had decided his future and, while the club are well aware of his desire to fight on, a final decision has not been signed off and will be “mutual”.
There is no sense that Arsenal have withdrawn the two-year contract proposal that was drawn up – and an announcement now appears more a question of timing than intent – but the situation could conceivably still change if the side’s alarming slide continues.
Wenger said that he would communicate a decision on his future “very soon” but no announcement is planned in the current two-week international break and his focus is to arrest an unprecedented sequence during his tenure of four defeats in five Premier League games.
He is also facing deepening uncertainty about his two star players, with Alexis Sánchez seeming certain to depart this summer Mesut Özil expected to join up with Germany on Monday despite missing Saturday’s match with a hamstring injury.
The Daily Telegraph understands that Özil has turned down a contract offer of more than £200,000 a week and it is thought he was originally in Wenger’s starting line-up for Saturday’s game before being replaced by Aaron Ramsey. Arsenal have stressed that Özil did start training on Friday but was unable to complete the session. Özil also missed the defeat by Liverpool on March 4.
Despite all the off-field uncertainty, Wenger also remains deeply involved with longer-term planning and the club are sizing up candidates for a wider sporting director role ahead of the expected departure of transfer negotiator Dick Law.
Arsenal have dropped to sixth in the Premier League following a sequence that has seen them concede 21 goals in seven Premier League – two of their three wins since Jan 28 have come against Sutton United and Lincoln City in the FA Cup – but Wenger said that his future did not depend solely on finishing in the top four.
“It will not necessarily be linked with that because I’ve done the top four 20 times. It’s more... it’s not that,” he said. “I take a bigger perspective. It’s not the last result that will decide what I will do.”
The atmosphere in the away end at the Hawthorns was toxic and as Wenger boarded the team coach he was booed by some Arsenal fans.
When asked about the protests, which included an aeroplane flying overhead with the words “No Contract #WengerOut”, he said: “Everybody in life is responsible for his own behaviour. I’m responsible for my own behaviour. I don’t judge other people. I give my best. As long as I’m at the club, whether for two more years, 10 years or four months, that will not be different.”
West Brom manager Tony Pulis also predicted that Wenger would stay, although it appeared tongue in cheek when he claimed that the Frenchman had “told me” his decision.
Pulis, Wenger’s old nemesis, has lost only one home game from his past eight meetings with Arsenal, and this triumph rarely looked in doubt in front of West Brom’s Chinese owner, Guochuan Lai. Albion, typically well organised and resilient, now possess players to sprinkle the stardust.
Beating their best Premier League finish of 49 points is certainly achievable.
Craig Dawson punished woeful defending with the first goal after 12 minutes and Sánchez’s tidy finish – against the backdrop noise of aeroplane propellers overhead – did not knock West Brom off course.
Hal Robson-Kanu added the hosts’ second goal 74 seconds after coming on before Dawson exposed Arsenal again with an identical goal to the first, from another brilliant set-piece 15 minutes from time.
In an indictment of Wenger’s preparations for the game, West Brom defender Jonny Evans admitted they were always confident of exposing Arsenal.
“I think sometimes you’ve got a psychological feeling going into a game and especially from set-pieces,” he said. “Were we confident because it was Arsenal? I think so.” See you again next season, Arsène?