Gunners chief jokes about his standing with supporters but must challenge for crown to justify new two-year contract
Four days after masterminding Chelsea’s downfall in the FA Cup final last May, football’s longest-serving manager finally signed a new two-year deal with Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger was in fighting spirit as he revealed his targets for the term
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It brought an end to football’s longest-running saga, the will he/won’t he debate which overshadowed his team’s entire season.
Yet even the impressive manner of that Wembley victory against the runaway Premier League champions has not convinced all of Wenger’s critics that he deserves his extended stay.
And the 67-year-old accepts the only way to justify his £8million-a-year contract is with a genuine title challenge sustained right to the wire.
As he prepares to return to Wembley for tomorrow’s Community Shield rematch with Antonio Conte’s team, Wenger can already hear knives being sharpened.
Half-jokingly, the Frenchman said: “I am sorry I am still here and I can understand that you want to kill me but, at the moment, I survive.
“Last season we won the FA Cup and made 75 points and of course we are not happy with that. But some teams did worse.
Arsene Wenger knows stars like Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil will have to be paid more because of extra funds for clubs like Paris Saint-Germain
“When we qualified for the Champions League every year, people told me ‘but you didn’t win a trophy’.
“Now we won a trophy and it’s said to me ‘why are you not in the Champions League?’
“That’s normal for me to live with so now I just focus on my job to do as well as I can and win absolutely every competition.”
It is now 13 years since Arsenal last won the Premier League and last season’s fifth-place finish was their lowest since 1996, before Wenger arrived to replace Bruce Rioch. Yet only twice in the last 12 years have Arsenal finished with more than last season’s 75-point haul, which explains why Wenger feels so hard done by to miss out on a Champions League spot.
Arsene Wenger hopes Arsenal can displace title-winning Chelsea manager Antonio Conte at the top
He pointed out: “We finished with four more points than the season before, when we were runners-up to Leicester.
“It was the first time that 75 points didn’t get you into the Champions League. We have got there before with 67 points. No one can predict what will be required this time.
“Our target is to get ten more points than last season. With 85 points, you are in there fighting for the title.”
And while he takes no satisfaction from missing out on Champions League football for the first time in 20 years, Wenger believes Arsenal’s absence from Europe’s top competition will benefit their title prospects.
He remains convinced his players never recovered from the crushing 10-2 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich and said: “In the last two seasons, the champions did not play in Europe and were more consistent in the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger has seen rival bosses like Manchester United chief Jose Mourinho splash out this summer
“Chelsea will certainly fight for the championship again but I don’t know if they will make as many points because I expect that some teams will be stronger and take points from them.
“We showed in the FA Cup final that the gap between us was not as high as some people suggested and now we have to show that again on Sunday.
“It’s very difficult to evaluate the real forces in the Premier League.
“Manchester United and City have bought many players, Chelsea and Liverpool have bought and so have we. It’s very open.
Arseen Wenger hopes to break back into the top four this season, including displacing Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City
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“But being out of the Champions League is a good opportunity to focus completely on the Premier League, which in my opinion has taken over in interest from Europe.”
Wenger has still never won a European trophy in his long and distinguished managerial career.
And many feel that participation in the Europa League gives him the perfect chance to finally break his duck.
Yet even with a Champions League place on offer to the winners, Europe’s second-tier competition holds little attraction for perfectionist Wenger.
Arsene Wenger accepts Arsenal need a big improvement from last season if they are to bid for the Premier League title
He said: “I will always pick a team that has a good chance to win the next game but if we can afford to rest some players in the Europa League, I will.
“You cannot go into a new season thinking of winning the Europa League to get qualification into the Champions League.
“In any case, apart from Manchester United last season, the Europa League has always been won by one of the teams that were kicked out of the Champions League in the group stages.”
In-limbo Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez kisses the Arsenal badge during training session
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