Wenger extends Arsenal love affair

As Arsene Wenger agreed a three-year contract extension yesterday, plans were reportedly afoot for a boardroom peace summit between Arsenal and Manchester United to end the hostilities that have marred recent meetings between the sides.

Wenger's new deal will keep him in his post until at least May 2008. Given his track record of loyalty, despite overtures from Real Madrid, it would be unwise to bet on him leaving before then. "My intention has always been clear," he said. "I love this club and I am very happy here."

As for peace in his time, it would be imprudent to wager even a slice of pizza.

The arguments in favour of a truce are irrefutable, and directors at both clubs are said to be interested in private talks. But the reality is that neither club has provided any evidence of wanting to take the sting from their relationship.

Sunday's tunnel fracas, when unnamed Arsenal personnel pelted Sir Alex Ferguson with food, came despite, not because of, the Gunners' bans and fines arising from last season's "Battle of Old Trafford".

United's rustic approach to ending Arsenal's 49-match unbeaten run, epitomised by Ruud van Nistelrooy's shin-scraping challenge on Ashley Cole, was also unseemly. But it was effective, and gained them three points, and it is hard to imagine how any pep talk from a suit will ever persuade Ferguson that he isn't going about things quite the right way.

Still, the intention apparently remains for Arsenal's vice-chairman, David Dein, and United's chief executive, David Gill, to discuss what might be done when their paths cross in the near future. Both men are Football Association Council members and represent their clubs at Premier League and G14 meetings. It is hoped a voluntary tête-à-tête might succeed where FA-brokered "cease- fires" of the past have failed.

While neither club was confirming talks yesterday, Arsenal were happy to shout from the roof-tops about Wenger's contract. His current deal was to expire at the end of this season. He is now all but certain to be at the helm when Arsenal move into their 60,000-seat stadium in 2006.

Since arriving in north London in 1996, the 55-year-old Frenchman has led Arsenal to three Premiership titles and three FA Cup wins. Two titles have come in Double-winning seasons, in 1998 and 2002, with the third arriving in spring this year after an unbeaten season in the League. The third FA Cup win was last year. Arsenal have not finished outside the Premiership top two since Wenger's first - partial - season in 1996-97, when they finished third.

By contrast, results in Europe have been less impressive. Arsenal have consistently underperformed in the Champions' League, something Wenger wants to rectify. "Signing a new contract just rubber-stamps my desire to take this club forward and fulfil my ambitions," he said. "I still have much to achieve and my target is to drive this club on, not only by sustaining our recent success but building upon it."

Arsenal's chairman, Peter Hill-Wood, praised how Wenger had "revolutionised the club, both on and off the pitch", although he did not detail quite how players throwing food at opposing managers fitted into the revolution. Certainly no one caught that aspect on TV.

Danny Fiszman, an Arsenal director, said he hoped that Wenger would stay at the club beyond 2008. It has been suggested that Arsenal would be happy for Wenger to remain as manager for as long as he wants, and then move on to the board.

"When we come towards the end of his contract we will both review the situation," Fiszman said. "I'm sure we will want him to stay on and I hope he will too ... He can spot talent, he motivates the team and plays football our fans and the whole country appreciate.

"He has a great commitment to the club and the future of the club and he looks after the assets as if they were his own. He has done this since day one."

Comments