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Refreshed Wenger insists his decision to stay at Arsenal was an ‘obvious’ one

Date Posted,July 14, 2017

He survived fan protests, a mid-season form slump, players wanting to leave and renewed hostilities with Jose Mourinho.

But despite a season of turmoil, Arsene Wenger reckons that it was “obvious” he was always going to stay on as Arsenal manager.

And in his first full interview since signing a new two-year contract, Wenger insists that his decision was driven by his belief that he can lead Arsenal to the Premier League title again.

Wenger has already broken Arsenal’s transfer record after spending £52m on Alexandre Lacazette and still has his sights set firmly on Monaco winger Thomas Lemar to strengthen the squad.

Wenger penned a new two-year deal at the end of the season (Image: David Price)

But despite being on an exhaustive 21,000 mile round trip pre-season tour of Sydney and then onto Shanghai and Beijing, Wenger actually looks refreshed, hungry and very different from the low points of last season.

He has been getting up at 4am in Sydney rather than his usual 5am start back home in London and no-one can accuse him of not doing everything to transform Arsenal back into title contenders again.

The man himself is convinced they are not far away.

“The reason (I stayed) was I love Arsenal Football Club and always want to give my all for the club,” he said. “I had the choice to continue to work or to go and work somewhere else and when I had to take that decision it was always an obvious one.

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“Don’t imagine that we prepare not to win the league. We prepare to have a chance to win the league but I would say we are at a level of other teams that can win the league as well. But let’s focus on preparing well and we will have a chance of doing it.

“The last four years we’ve had difficult starts and it’s important for us to have a good start even though we have a difficult programme when we kick off.

“At the end of the day, in the top six or seven, none of them will tell you that they don’t want to win the league. We all want to win it.

“But you have to take that with a little bit of distance on what happened to us to last season – we finished with 75 points, a point behind Liverpool and we won the FA Cup so you cannot say that we have been far away.

Wenger lifted yet another FA Cup last season (Image: AFP)

“I believe that we have to come back and focus on being our best. After that, we live in a job where we accept that we want to win the next game and when that doesn’t happen you get criticised.”

It was the level of criticism last season which really seemed to raise serious doubt as to whether Wenger would – and indeed could – carry on after 21 years in charge.

Sometimes the backlash from the fans was overwhelming. The 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace in early April was undoubtedly a low point but they came back by winning ten of their last 11 games and won the FA Cup.

A section of Arsenal fans wanted Wenger out last season (Image: AFP)

Even so, people were quick to suggest that Wenger should go out as a hero rather than risk being a glutton for more punishment if things went badly.

But there was clearly no doubt in Wenger’s mind that he wanted to carry on and winning the cup made it an easier sell.

“We basically had three parts to last season. The first part was positive, the second part was worryingly negative and the third part was extremely positive,” said Wenger.

“We finished with a trophy which looked at some stage very difficult for us to reach because we played Man City in the semi final and Chelsea in the final.

Lacazette scored on his Arsenal debut on Thursday (Image: Getty Images AsiaPac)

“I won’t tell you when I decided finally to sign because I don’t even know personally. My conviction and desire (to stay) was always there but I wanted to give myself some time (to think).

“In fact, I think it was a mistake because it raised some uncertainty. It raised some opinions against and overall it was a difficult moment but I was focused on my job.”

But despite the sometimes searing criticism, Wenger insisted TV pundits, journalists and ex-players did not bother him. The only thing which really upset him was abuse during games and he is desperate for the fans to get behind the team again.

“There were some hard moments last season but the hard moments were more linked with lost games than with opinions and criticism,” said Wenger.

Wenger believes he can lead Arsenal back to the title (Image: Getty Images AsiaPac)

“I can take a distance with opinions. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about opinions but I’m experienced enough to take a distance and focus on my job.

“There’s a difference between pressure – we all accept pressure – you live with that and I’ve lived with that for a very long time. But when the game starts you want the fans to support the team.

“Before the game and after the game, anyone can say what they like. Today you have to accept that everyone has very harsh opinions about everything and we have to live with that. You want the fans to support the team, that’s all.”

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