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JOHN CROSS: How defiant, delighted Wenger turned Wembley post-match interview into a power-play

Date Posted,May 28, 2017

Arsene Wenger had just made FA Cup ­history but was already ­thinking about the future.

He had become the most ­successful manager in the competition, the weight of the world looked as if it had been lifted from his ­shoulders — and he was ­determined to make his point.

The Arsenal boss turned a post-match ­interview into a power-play by sending out a very clear message, ­knowing the ­hierarchy would get to hear even if they were ­celebrating in the directors’ box.

Wenger was talking about fit-again Per Mertesacker after his Man Of The Match performance in his first start and just second game of the whole season, praising his rehabilitation programme and “the work that goes into getting ­players fit” after injury.

No manager in the history of the game has won the FA Cup as many times as Wenger (Photo: AFP)

It might have sounded like an innocuous remark but the reality, along with snide recent comments about robots, computers and directors of football, is that he’s fed up with ­people questioning him.

Wenger is fiercely loyal, does not appreciate his staff being criticised and the ­inference that some of his methods and backroom team are outdated and need freshening up.

Now the Frenchman, having ­become the first manager to win the FA Cup seven times, is in a much stronger position ahead of the board meeting on Tuesday and will go in demanding support – or else.

Chief executive Ivan Gazidis has said this season must be a “catalyst for change”, even “old-school” board members ­become concerned during a ­turbulent time and Wenger has been under real ­pressure for the first time in his 21-year reign.

Majority shareholder Stan Kroenke remains firmly behind Wenger, his skin as thick and attitude as defiant as the Frenchman’s amid criticism.

But there are still issues to be ironed out.

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The FA Cup has often been his salvation in recent years.

Winning it in 1998 and 2002 completed the Double and lifting it in 2014 was the precursor to him signing the three-year ­contract which is coming to an end. He has won it three times in four years.

Wenger has respected the FA Cup like few other ­foreign managers and this time it was a game-changer and a mood-changer.

The fans who had abused him changed their tune and a seventh success not only restored his smile but gave him back his strength and bargaining power in the boardroom.

No wonder Wenger decided to keep his medal, rather than ­discarding it or giving it to one of his backroom staff as he has in the past — further proof of his ­loyalty and respect for his staff.

Aaron Ramsey’s late goal ensured Arsenal beat champions Chelsea at Wembley (Photo: Rex Features)

Some saw it as a clear sign that he is leaving. But Wenger explained it was purely because of making history.

“You know, I keep that because it’s the seventh,” he said, before expanding on his love affair with the FA Cup. “It means the intensity of the emotions. In what other game can you get that, you know?

“It’s a special day for a football club.

“The cup is hugely popular in every country. In France [also on Saturday] you have Paris Saint-Germain v ­Angers, it’s just the ­explosion of the passion of people. It’s absolutely ­fantastic.

“I meet many Arsenal fans who are absolutely ­fantastic. I just said there was maybe one per cent [[who aren’t], but the 99 per cent of them are absolutely ­fantastic. We play for the 99 per cent.”

A section of the Arsenal supporters want Wenger out after 21 years (Photo: PA Wire)

Despite everything, Wenger still did not ­categorically clear up the uncertainty over his future.

He cannot show his hand either way ahead of the ­anticipated power struggle in the board meeting.

But he did make it clear he is still incredibly driven, even at 67.

“Look, could we not have a little rest?” said Wenger, ­laughing when asked about his future. “You ask me that question at least one time every week. Every last press conference!

“Give me a ­little breather. I’m not a young man. I’m a very young manm but I don’t look very young.

“That’s the ­difference. I have desire. I love my job, love to win, love to build, love to get people going – simple as that.”

If it is down to Wenger, he’ll stay — because it is his life.

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