Arsene Wenger says Arsenal are moving forward as a club but acknowledged that it’s “frustrating” those efforts haven’t been rewarded this season.
In a wide-ranging interview with the May edition of Arsenal Magazine, Wenger addressed a number of subjects that have since become even more topical in light of a planned fan protest at the Emirates Stadium during Saturday’s game against Norwich.
With Arsenal out of the Premier League title race and now facing a battle for fourth place, fans plan to hold up signs saying Arsenal have gone “stale” and that a “fresh approach” is needed.
But in the interview, which was conducted before this week and focused on the influence Johan Cruyff had on Wenger, the Frenchman said his methods are always evolving.
“What’s quite frustrating for me is that I feel in the last two years, we have moved the game forward in a modern way of managing the team and the club. Maybe we have not been immediately rewarded in the championship, but we feel we are moving the club the right way,” Wenger said.
“We always want to learn and to move forward, together. That’s one of the principles of the club. We want to be together but we want to move forward.”
Arsenal’s late-season struggles have put Wenger under more pressure from fans than at perhaps any other time during his 20-year reign in North London. With Tottenham looking likely to finish above Arsenal for the first time under Wenger, that fan anger is unlikely to subside before the end of the season.
But Wenger insisted that making the fans happy remains his top priority.
“I always think that the respect for the fans comes when you have the desire as a coach to give them something on a Saturday afternoon that makes them happy,” he added.
“I believe that fans should always be able to wake up on a Saturday morning and their first thought should be, ‘Yes my team is playing today, it could be great,'” he said. “Unfortunately we do not always manage to give them that, but at the least we should have the desire to do that.”
Wenger also defended Arsenal’s continued reliance on possession-based attacking football, even when Leicester look likely to win the Premier League with a very different approach based on solid defending and quick counterattacks.
“I also believe that the positive idea of a football club is to have a desire for style. If big clubs don’t have that, then I think something is missing,” Wenger said. “Throughout the history of the game, the big club sides and the big national teams always had that desire.
“Whether it is Brazil, or the big teams like Barcelona and Real Madrid. And I think Arsenal has a positive reputation on that front. The big English teams — Liverpool, Man United and so on — always had that as well. It is basically an obligation for you as a coach.”
Wenger’s ability to get the best out of his players has also been questioned this season after a disappointing campaign for the likes of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Walcott is in his 10th year with the club but has had to settle for place on the bench lately and could be overlooked by Roy Hodgson for England’s European Championship squad.
But the Frenchman said that at this stage of his career he is more driven by helping players fulfill their potential than by earning personal accolades.
“I want to help the players to achieve the best of what they can in their career. At the end of the day, we are not responsible for the talent we each have, but we are responsible for what we do with our talent,” Wenger said.
“The respect I have for people is when you look back and say ‘This guy had nothing much more left within him than what he achieved.’ I would like that I am the guy today who helps the players to achieve all that they can achieve — to fulfil their potential.
“That’s where the real respect comes from — when you feel people have fulfilled their potential. When you think people have used 60 or 70 percent of their talent, even when they are very talented, there is something missing there that makes you think, ‘No my friend, you are wrong.'”
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