Ahead of Arsenal’s penultimate home game of the season against Norwich, Arsene Wenger took on questions about his side’s failings, the planned supporter protest and his relationship with Stan Kroenke.
We’ve ignored the boring stuff he’s asked about weekly and instead produced a transcript of his long and bullish replies to the more controversial subjects.
It’s your 750th Premier League game in charge at the weekend, another milestone…
You know, you go game by game. I just want to win the next game always.
And yet, everything you’ve achieved, almost 20 years constantly in the Champions League, there’s set to be protests, not against you specifically, but against the club from some fan groups…
Yes, you know I think this club has special values and we care about the club and we care about our fans as well and we try to keep everybody happy. We have to put things a little bit in perspective and see how the club’s evolution has gone over the years. I believe it was not always easy. The quality of the work we’ve done at the club has got us in a strong position where the expectation level is very high. The frustration is very high as well when we do not get what we want.
We have a saying ‘fans should be careful what they wish for’…whoever takes over from you, whenever they take over from you, will they get 20 years constantly in the Champions League?
I don’t know. I wish when I go that the club goes higher up, wins the Champions League and the championship every year. I will be the biggest supporter in the stand because I will feel I’ve contributed a little bit to that with the basis that we have built. You have to remember that when we built the stadium we had five to seven difficult financial years. Out of five years we had to be three years in the Champions League and have an average attendance of 54,000 people. We didn’t know if we’d be capable to do that but of course we had to sell our best players every year and survive. And we had to survive at the top level. We did not do three years out of five [in the Champions League], we did five years out of five. I think the club is now out of that period and is in a much stronger position. And is again in a position where we can compete financially with our main opponents During that time it was very difficult.
You’re very competitive, three games to go and you’re not in the title race, how frustrating is that?
It is very frustrating because we were in a position for a long, long time where we could compete for the title. I think in the last three years we won the FA Cup in the 2014 and the Charity Shield and in 2015 as well and finished third in the league. We wanted to go a step higher up and win the league. It was possible, that’s why we’re frustrated. As well you know, I can understand the frustration. Nobody is more frustrated than we are. But competitionally [sic] as well, to fight, no matter what happens, master all kinds of situations and protect and go for what we can achieve…our disappointment has not to go too far. I believe that the team…some people question their character. I tell you something, this team has character and attitude. Some people who question them, I know them well, have less character than this team has. Because I saw them play and know them closely. They should not question the character of these players because they are exceptional characters. We are disappointed but we have to fight. On the other hand, when a club cannot enjoy anything anymore it is in trouble. We need not to forget that in football you can go down very quickly and come up very slowly. We have to stick together, the team played as well this season sometimes at home…we lost the championship at home against the lower teams, but we played sometimes at home in a very difficult climate. We have to realise that away from home we are championship winners. At home, against the smaller teams, we dropped the points. We are top of the league in the top teams. We want to add what is needed. This club has special values and one of the values I’ve experienced over the years is to stick together and to support the team. There is no success otherwise.
You mentioned about playing in difficult circumstances. Jurgen Klopp seems to have really rallied Anfield and that’s one of the things they are talking about with their Europa League return leg. Do you feel you could get more from the home crowd at the Emirates?
Yes, you speak about Liverpool; it’s a good example to follow. They are a big club.
And you’re a big club…
We’re a very big club.
So you would want some more of that as well? Some more home support…
Look, I can understand the frustration of our fans, but as well, despite that, we want to support our team. The best chance you can give to the team is to be behind the team.
Do you think, should there be any failings, or consider to be any failings this season, that you take it all…the fans, the team…
Look, there are some group of people who try to manipulate our fans and do that well. I believe apart from an agenda, a personal agenda and big ego, there’s not a lot behind it. That’s what I think, basically.
[question about Norwich fighting relegation]
Arsene, who has the personal agenda?
I don’t know. I don’t know.
Is it the media you mean, or a fan group particularly?
Honestly, I don’t worry too much about that. I focus on…what is interesting for me in football is the quality of the game and the values that we want to represent. This club is hugely respected and loved all over the world and the quality of our game is very important and to perform no matter what kind of circumstances we play and against who we play. All the rest…what I think is the club is in a very strong situation and you want your fans as well to be behind the team.
Some of them [the fans] are criticising the owner, Stan [Kroenke]. We don’t get to speak to him very often. Can you tell us what he’s like as an owner?
No, I don’t want to go into personal comments on my owner. We can work with complete freedom. I believe that every football club should work with the resources it generates and that’s what we do. When I speak about values, this is one of the values I speak about and we are very proud to do that.
Some fans think he lacks a bit of ambition, he’s never stopped you in the transfer market?
Never, never. The owner is very ambitious of course, we are all very ambitious.