I will stay, says Wenger – but doubts remain
Norwich 1 Arsenal 2
Arsène Wenger leaving Arsenal? Perish the thought, according to the man himself. An honest answer to a throwaway question by a French journalist reared its head on Saturday, opening up the idea that Wenger might leave in the summer. But after this fifth consecutive Premier League win, Wenger was adamant he will see out his contract, which ends in 2014.
He said: "I am completely committed to the club and I will show you that at the end of the season. It was a little sentence [in the interview with L'Équipe] which if you read well says I have two more years to go and I will stay and that is it. I think it's a non-story."
And as if that was not enough to convince those who feel that Wenger is possibly starting to smooth his way to a departure next summer, the Arsenal board is determined that Wenger should stay for the next two-and-half years.
In the interview with L'Équipe, given "two to three weeks ago", Wenger was honest enough to say that he would reconsider his future at the club next summer and would consider leaving if he "fell below his expectations".
Wenger explained: "I have two years on my contract and it was after the chat I said the only way I would leave is if I didn't give what was expected, if I was below what was expected. There are many people questioning what I do. But if at the end of the season you feel you didn't deliver..."
Given the way Arsenal finished last season, then struggled through the summer, selling Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, and bearing in mind they started so poorly this season, Wenger's slightly negative admission in the interview is easy to understand. If this campaign turns out as badly as the last one, you could see why Wenger would think it was time to reflect. After six years without a trophy – he has been at the club for 15 years – it seems even Wenger is finally prone to some sort of self-doubt. In truth, Wenger's tenure at Arsenal comes up for discussion on a frequent basis. It has just come up a little earlier than usual this time. He never renews his contract until it is in its last year and sometimes leaves it to the very last minute to renew, opening up all sorts of avenues of speculation, before re-committing himself.
But he has been hit hard by the public criticism over the lack of success of his "project" and if the sale of Fabregas to Barcelona could never be averted, the move by Nasri to Manchester City was hurtful.
It was one of his key players showing no faith that Wenger could deliver on his promises.
This season started badly and promised little. Five consecutive league wins, which have brought Arsenal to within touching distance of the top four, have not altered Wenger's stance that his side have much to prove. He said: "We have to show that we can go very far, that's what we don't know, but we have the desire to."
Robin van Persie's desire to stay at Arsenal beyond the end of his contract in 2013 is still not known but he continues to show he is the Premier League's most dangerous forward. His goals against Norwich took him to 31 strikes in 29 league games in 2011.
Arsenal should have won by more than the 2-1 scoreline. Three goal-line clearances by Russell Martin kept the Gunners at bay, before and after Steve Morison took advantage of some terrible defending by Per Mertesacker to give the Canaries the lead.
But an error by Martin, which led to the counter-attack for Van Persie's winning goal, did not escape Paul Lambert's attention. The Norwich manager said: "I know he cleared three off the line but the one that really matters is the goal. You have to be perfect in the Premier League at both ends of the pitch."
Norwich have only two points out of the last 12, but the Scot is not perturbed. He said: "We'll go again and I've every belief that they'll bounce back as quickly and strongly as they can. We'll be fine."
RVP in figures
31 Robin van Persie has scored 31 goals in 29 games.
52% RVP has scored more than half of Arsenal's league goals this campaign
5 RVP became only the fifth Premier League player to score over 30 goals in a calendar year. Alan Shearer tops the list with 36 in 1995.
Borussia Dortmund head to the Emirates Stadium to play Arsenal in the Champions League on Wednesday on a high after beating leaders Bayern Munich 1-0 on Saturday, Mario Gotze scoring. The Bundesliga champions lie four points adrift of Arsenal, who top Group F on eight points.
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