Arsenal have no option but to charge high ticket prices, Arsène Wenger said yesterday, and the manager added that he had little sympathy for visiting fans at the Emirates.
Arsenal's match against Manchester City tomorrow costs £62 for the visiting supporters, and City have sent back more than 900 tickets to be re-sold to home fans. Despite all this week's criticism, Wenger said Arsenal need to charge high prices if they are to compete with those clubs funded by benefactors.
"Ideally, you want ticket prices to be as low as possible," Wenger said. "But, on the other hand, the only way we can pay the wages and compete without any external help is with the ticket prices because it is our main income. Therefore we are in this situation where of course the prices are high."
Wenger was more sympathetic to the home fans than those travelling to the Emirates: "I am really worried they are high for our supporters. For the visitors, it only happens once per year so that is less a concern."
Wenger said that individuals had to choose whether to attend football, as they would with other forms of public entertainment. "If you want to go to a concert tomorrow, you look at the price of a ticket and after if it is too high for you, you say yes or no," Wenger said. "That is everybody's individual responsibility."
Wenger said yesterday that Theo Walcott would sign a new contract at Arsenal after his long contract stand-off. Walcott is in the final year of his deal at Arsenal and until recently looked likely to leave, but after recent talks Wenger said the striker would agree a new deal this month.
"We are on a good road but in this situation as long as nothing is signed, you are cautious," Wenger said. "But I am optimistic we will get to a happy conclusion. I was optimistic last week, but I am a bit more optimistic this week."
Walcott has been at Arsenal for nearly seven years but Wenger said he could now start his career in earnest. "He can improve of course," the manager said. "He's 23 years old, that's where usually players start their career. For a striker, he's coming into the best age now."
Despite the contract issue, Walcott has been Arsenal's top scorer so far this season, and Wenger praised his recent form up front. "The quality of his runs off the ball and the quality of his finishing," Wenger identified as Walcott's areas of most improvement. "If you compare Theo from today with three years ago, he is a different animal today. Today he finishes in a calm way and very accurately.
"Against Newcastle, he scored three goals, and was completely committed. One credit I gave him always was that I could never see a difference in training or in games, during that period that was quite difficult for him."
Tomorrow, Wenger will not have to face Robin van Persie, who might have joined Manchester City in the summer but chose Manchester United instead. Wenger suggested that United was a better platform for Van Persie than City would have been.
"You know at City they have plenty of world-class strikers," Wenger said. "[Carlos] Tevez, [Edin] Dzeko – hopefully they won't have [Sergio] Aguero this weekend. They have the quality. If [Van Persie] went to City he would have been just another striker in a bunch of world-class players."