Wenger proud of Arsenal's progress

Four trophy-less years are highlight of time in charge, as Villa aim tomorrow to increase chances of a fifth

Arsene Wenger fielded questions asked by Arsenal supporters this week and, as usual, his predictions for that young squad of his were anything but modest. To the question of where he saw his club in five years' time, Wenger answer was: "I hope that this squad will still be together and they will dominate Europe and the league in England."

As wishes go, that was rather more hopeful than the Christmas wish that Wenger nurtured as a 10-year-old, "When I was a kid I wanted a train so much," he recalled, "I got one from my godfather and I still have never forgotten about it." In his position, you might have expected the Arsenal manager simply to hope that his unpredictable team beat Aston Villa at the Emirates tomorrow.

It is one of the stand-out fixtures of the weekend, not least because so far Martin O'Neill's team have beaten the three other members of that elite, but now slightly tarnished, cabal of clubs known as the big four. What is more, Liverpool and Manchester United have both been beaten by Villa on their home patches while Chelsea were dispatched at Villa Park.

There must be aspects of O'Neill's team that Wenger grudgingly recognises in his own. The Villa manager is an astute player in the transfer market and he has placed his faith in youngsters like Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ashley Young and James Milner. His teams have pace all over even if they cannot yet claim to pass the ball around like Wenger's Arsenal do when they are really in the groove.

As the turn of the year approaches, Wenger has more to be grateful than most. When Arsenal lost to Chelsea on 29 November they were 11 points behind the Premier League leaders and out the running. Now that gap has been cut to six points. The top of the league is compressed, with eight points separating Chelsea at the top from Tottenham in fifth and now is the time for one club to put together a string of results and take up the running.

For Arsenal, seemingly dead and buried last month, this would be the ideal time. However, in the recent past, they have been hugely disappointing in big games, starting with last season's Champions League semi-final and including the performances against Chelsea this season and, to a lesser extent, Manchester City and Manchester United. Villa, on a run of four straight league wins, would be the slight favourites to take advantage tomorrow.

And yet, at some point you assume Wenger's grandiose predictions for his team will come true. He may have ranted after the Chelsea game about how little he saw in his opposition that day but he did make the point that Chelsea would drop points. In that respect he has been vindicated - Chelsea have dropped seven points since they crushed Arsenal 3-0 at the Emirates.

Villa are level on points with Arsenal, albeit having played one game extra, and even Wenger acknowledged that there is a threat from O'Neill's team. "It is a game where we can strengthen our position in the league, so that's why we will be completely focused," he said. There are worries over the fitness of Cesc Fabregas who missed the game against Hull City with a hamstring injury.

Wenger's favourite topic is the distortion of the league by the wealth of Chelsea and latterly Manchester City, but he also likes to point out that the club have suffered in the last four trophy-less years because of the move to the Emirates. The inference is always that there is less money to spend although no details are ever forthcoming and the message from the likes of Danny Fiszman, the club's boardroom strongman, has often been a conflicting one.

"The last four years have been the most challenging," Wenger said. "It's not linked with the fact we have won no trophies. I think it is moving into the new stadium and keeping the team at the top. For me the best period at the club is the last four years but unfortunately it is also the period where we have not won trophies.

"But people forget we have been reasonably consistent and it has been the most difficult period, but as well for me, the period where I worked the best. Moving into a new stadium, with less resources, [people should] respect the fact we have still made some money in every single year without the team dropping a level, and maintaining a successful period in the Champions League and doing reasonably in the league. I think it was quite difficult."

Best question goes to the fan who asked Wenger whether he meditated and discovered a whole new side to the often harassed-looking Arsenal manager. "I would love to," Wenger said. "I would like to learn. I believe it is a way to switch off and become serene because we are always under pressure and sometimes you feel it would be nice to get out of that a little bit and meditation is a very interesting way. I haven't mastered the technique but I find it very interesting."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders