Arsene uncut: The Arsenal boss on referees, transfers, budgets, Fergie and 8-2 revenge
Published 23:00 20/01/12 By John Cross
Arsene Wenger is normally guarded and says very little on the eve of big games, but he was in top form ahead of Sunday's Premier League crunch with Manchester United.
The Arsenal manager holds a separate press conference away for the newspapers away from the TV cameras, and in it he candidly discussed referees, decisions, transfers, budgets, revenge for that Old Trafford hammering and competing with Sir Alex Ferguson.
Here is the full transcript of his forthright and compelling views...
What is the latest on Jack Wilshere? Is February too soon?
"Wilshere will be back in February but it could be later in February. He is on time. He started to run again today, if he has no set-back he should be back in February."
Managers have ups and downs, how do managers stay sane through the ups and downs?
"I don't stay sane. It is a life where you need to take a certain distance from the immediate emotional aspect of the game and you learn that with experience. You have as well to be involved emotionally because it's part of your job."
When you talk about refs [as he had done in the previous broadcast press conference] that complaints about refs mask deficiencies in your own team in games which you are expected to win?
"That means no matter what the decision of the referee is you have to win the game. I would say why does everybody then try to put pressure on the referee if decisions are not important?"
You were winning games like these last season, 3-0 or 4-0, so people might say you're hiding behind decisions?
"Well, yes, but still we want the right decisions to be made. There are some people who made a study of last season and we were second in the league considering the decisions of the referees and yet we finished fourth. It [the study] showed we were two points behind the leaders."
I've seen it.
"You've seen it? A Swedish guy did it. Last year in the last six months what happened to us was unbelievable. I don't know about this season, it hasn't been done. But last season has been done."
Do you really think there's a conspiracy against Arsenal?
"No, there's no conspiracy but you want the right decisions to be made. You can still win the game with a bad decision, you are right. But if one day you manage a club or you are a chairman of a club you would feel exactly the same."
You still can't guarantee if decisions had been different the result would have been different?
"If Pires once dived against Portsmouth, OK? For six months it was a story in the newspapers. Dyer dived on Sunday and nobody said a word. You cannot say it is exactly the same and it doesn't matter. If it doesn't matter when Dyer dives, why does it matter when Pires dives?"
If penalty not given there's still no guarantee that Swansea wouldn't win anyway?
"There is never a guarantee. You didn't listen well to what I said. We had a few things going against us. One of the few things was the decisions of the referee. That doesn't excuse the fact that we lost the game. We could still have won the game. I would still like the referee to make the right decisions."
You're resisted so far moving into the market. Are you convinced the squad is strong enough to finish fourth - or better?
"Our squad is strong enough, yes [to finish 4th]. If the players come back we are strong enough. If we do not have the players back we will struggle."
Why not tempted to sign a left back on loan, you've looked short there?
"Football is not a supermarket where you go in there and say: 'give me a left-back please, and a right-back and a centre-back.' We have to find the players better to what we have. When Vermaelen plays left-back, finding a better left-back for me is difficult. Vermaelen has missed two games, maybe another game Sunday."
But if you don't sign cover it could cost you more in the long run. Is that not a concern?
"You cannot every time buy a player when you have an injury, where do you finish?England is bankrupt, the whole of Europe is bankrupt and everyone continues to spend like nothing happened."
Arsenal are not bankrupt, though?
"We manage in a sensible way at Arsenal and that's why we are not bankrupt. We are cited as an example, everybody would say: 'look at what they do, they manage in a normal way. That's not right!' That's what happens in the game. Everybody spends irrespective of whether they make money or not. It's normal. But we try to spend the money we have."
But you still charge a lot for tickets in relation to what you spend on transfers. Isn't that a source of frustration for the fans? Do you understand that frustration?
"No, what is unfair in fact is that the pressure on our wages is higher, because the other clubs who do not look at the way they manage pay huge wages, and for us just to keep our players we are pushed to the limit with our wages, just to keep the players happy. Because some clubs have unlimited resources. That's why the financial fair play is needed. It's not only for the clubs to manage well, they can pay £10m per month if they want. But it is a fact that the pressure they put on the smaller clubs, who have less resources, is not sustainable."
Your chairman said this week it wouldn't be a disaster if you didn't qualify for the Champions League....?
"For me it would be. Because I want to play with the best. And we want to be in there, in the top four, and to play in the Champions League, and anything else would not be good enough."
Is it a realistic prospect. It looks as if it could be a bad scenario after Sunday?
"It could be as well a good one. In the press you are now educated to see everything in black. And I am not sure it has no consequences on your spirit, be careful! You are not the only people."
But it's our job to also reflect the fans and that's what we're doing.
"You reflect the fans' fear but you create it as well."
Your rivalry with Sir Alex Ferguson. Who will go on longer?
"He will manage until he dies, and I think he will be 100."
Was the 8-2 defeat at Manchester United, the most disappointing result of career?
"No. Not at all. It was emotionally difficult, but it was not a final. If you lose the final of the Champions League, it has no other meaning than losing one game. When we lost at Man United we had still 35 games to play, you know. It was three points lost in a humiliating way but we can come back. When you lose a final of the Champions League, you need to come back and do it."
Natural for the players to want to put it right?
"It is natural, yes, somewhere of course. But if you ask me if it was a massive disappointment for us to lose at that level, but what is important: you do not play a football game for revenge, you play a football game because you want to win.
Do you have to manage that desire with your players?
"You have to do that as well."
What emotions were going through your head after Old Trafford? They were difficult times after losing players and a hard start?
"We were weak on the day but I knew as well we were dead because we were 1-0 down at Udinese, we had to fight to come back in the game, it was 33 degrees heat, a really hot night and it was a very difficult game. You say we have lost players but last year, for example, we lost Nasri, Fabregas and Wilshere. That was a big problem for us. Now if Wilshere comes back then we will also have Arteta, Diaby and we have players in there to come back and be strong again."
Why have there been such big scores between big clubs this season? Any special reason?
"No, because Man United lost 6-1 against Manchester City. First of all, it's because you have teams of quality and if you open them up at the back then they can punish you. Man City has quality up front as well. It was as well special circumstances because Man United played with ten men. When you're a big team and you play with ten men you don't sit back. You still want to attack. The only big team that was cautious when they went down to ten men was Manchester City against Manchester United in the cup and they nearly came back. But we were punished because I took a gamble and took Coquelin out who was the only defensive player in midfield and of course we were too open."
About Ferguson again going on longer? Haven't you got the same hunger? So why will he go on longer?
"Yes. I only said that because I'm very polite!"
Is there a motivation to last longer than him?
"My motivation is to beat him. To last the longest is not a record. Of course I will never beat his record. But to win the game on Sunday is my motivation. After that, we have to consider... we are in a job where we need our physical strength and health. Statistically, that weakens, I've heard, the older you get."
We can't imagine you retiring?
"Nor can I but it will happen. I will never retire. I will maybe do a different job, not every day out there with the football team. But I will work, that's for sure. I don't like to get up in the morning and have nothing to do. Maybe I will become a competitor for you (in the media)."