Wenger never more happy in 'changed England'

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The Independent Online

With his eighth anniversary in charge of Arsenal looming on Tuesday, Arsène Wenger yesterday confirmed that he will soon sign the contract that will extend his tenure to 10 years and beyond.

With his eighth anniversary in charge of Arsenal looming on Tuesday, Arsène Wenger yesterday confirmed that he will soon sign the contract that will extend his tenure to 10 years and beyond.

Yet he also admitted his first weeks in this country in the autumn of 1996 had been hard to bear but he now feels that England is a more welcoming country, making it much easier for his fellow foreign coaches to settle at their new clubs.

The Frenchman said: "It was much harder for me, in general, when I joined Arsenal, than it was for the likes of Jose Mourinho, Rafael Benitez and Jacques Santini [the current managers at Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham respectively].

"For me it was more hostile than it was for them. I was completely unknown in England and there were some stories about my private life which were not true. Another reason was because, historically, no foreign managers in England had been successful. So when I arrived there was a lot of scepticism.

"Now I feel that in eight years England has changed. It has changed as a country and in football too. It is much more open to international life compared to when I arrived.

"I don't know if that is because of what I did at Arsenal, it's very difficult to say." In his first season in charge, the north London club finished third but since then have won the Premiership and FA Cup three times, including two Doubles. However, looking back, Wenger did not believe he would last this long. He said: "What I've done has worked quite well. I've been very lucky to find a club like Arsenal. I did not think I would last eight years.

"I don't know if I changed Arsenal or they changed me. I think if I take the team who played in my first year, as opposed to the team today, the current one is younger, more international. But we try basically to play the same football since I arrived."

Wenger's present charges are on a record 48-match unbeaten League run stretching back to May 2003. However, the former Monaco coach acknowledged the huge burden the job has put on him as he has gone visibly greyer, while he also contains regrets about not having achieved more. He said: "As for me, how much have I changed? Look at the photos of me eight years ago and see the difference. I couldn't plan for eight years here. Eight years in football is 50 years in normal life. I think I could have done more, you always remember games you lost, like in the FA Cup or Europe. But I couldn't have lasted eight years without winning anything."

Wenger has asked the Spain coach Luis Aragones to apologise to Thierry Henry for his alleged racial slur made to Arsenal's Jose Antonio Reyes during training last week.

"What Aragones said was out of order," Wenger said. "I found his sentence completely non-motivational for Reyes. I don't think he has any professional excuse. He is not known, I must say, in Spain to be a racist coach at all though. He has offered to apologise to Thierry, but Thierry has not yet had an apology, I don't think. I think that Aragones should apologise - just to clear the air."

With Arsenal also set to increase their gates by about 50 per cent when they move to their new stadium in two years' time, Wenger also confirmed he would be around to see that day, partly because there is a part of him now that is forever English.

He said: "If I had to leave England I would try to keep in touch with the Premiership. I have been infected a little bit by the English football virus. As for my contract, it will be signed. It will take me through to the end of this season and three more."

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