Arsene Wenger has made it clear he still considers himself the right man for the Arsenal job, but hinted that he’s unsure whether the club board feels the same way.
Wenger celebrated his seventh FA Cup title on Saturday — the most of any manager in the competition’s history — after Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-1 at Wembley, but once again refused to deliver a definitive answer about his future, which is set to be finalised at a board meeting next week.
However, he rejected the notion that this would be a perfect way to bow out of the club after 21 years in charge.
Wenger said: “There’s no perfect way. I believe that I just want to do well for this club. After it’s down to the board members, am I the right man to lead this club further? And for me to decide that I am the right man to lead this club further.
“And that’s it. It’s not about popularity, its about competence.”
Wenger has faced unprecedented criticism from fans this season after the team’s Premier League challenge disintegrated in March and April, with the Gunners finishing outside the top four for the first time under the Frenchman.
Asked if he does believe he’s the right man, Wenger responded: “Look, I believe it because you cannot be 35 years at the top level if you do not believe you’re the right man for the job.”
So far, though, Arsenal’s board have stayed silent on whether they share that view. Majority owner Stan Kroenke and chairman Ivan Gazidis were at Wembley but didn’t speak to reporters after.
Wenger, who said this week he has never kept a winner’s medal or trophy, hinted that he doesn’t know whether the board will offer him a new deal at their meeting next week.
“I don’t think I can answer that question at the moment. For once I have kept my medal, so that means it’s a special night for me,” he said, holding up the box containing the medal. “And for the rest, we’ll see what happens in the future. We’re adults, we have to accept [decisions]. If I’m still here next season, I will have the same attitude in the press conferences.”
Despite his uncertain future, Wenger called the win against Chelsea one of the “proudest moments” of his illustrious career with the Gunners.
“It is [one of my proudest moments]. Because nobody gave us a chance and we responded with attitude and class,” Wenger said. “That’s why maybe today I’m more proud than usual. Because the team and myself we have refused to give up at some stage.”
Wenger had shared the record of six FA Cup wins with George Ramsay, who won his first in 1887 and last in 1920, but is now the most-successful manager in the world’s oldest cup competition.
“I’m very proud because if nobody has done it since 18-god-knows-when, it means it’s not easy,” he said. “And I’m especially proud of the way we won it this season. Because in the semifinal we had to play against Man City here. In the final against Chelsea. It cannot get tougher. And we had two outstanding performances. So this cup was won with a special spirit and a special attitude.”
Wenger also singled out Per Mertesacker for praise after the captain made his first start of the season and was one of Arsenal’s best players at the heart of their back three. Mertesacker was sidelined with a knee injury until January and had not played a minute until last Sunday. He only started at Wembley because Laurent Koscielny, Gabriel Paulista and Shkodran Mustafi were all unavailable.
“Per Mertesacker for me is a fantastic example for any young professional football player,” Wenger said. “What he did today is just the consequence of an unbelievable attitude every day. Even when he was not selected, he worked even harder. And that’s why I will pay special tribute to him tonight.”
The victory made sure Arsenal’s players could celebrate in front of their fans after a season in which some supporters turned against both the manager and team at times.
Wenger was the main target for fans, some of which staged protest marches calling for him to step down, but they also turned on the team after a dismal 3-0 loss at Crystal Palace in April. And Wenger made it clear he found that behaviour unacceptable.
He said: “I accept to be criticised and I accept that people don’t agree with me. But once the game starts, and you’re a fan, you stand behind the team. And that’s what I did not accept during the season and I will never accept it. Because I feel this club has special values, and we have shown it again today.
“We played in some games in a very hostile environment, and I will never accept that.”