"Nothing has changed." Arsène Wenger spat the words out, exasperated and almost affronted by the question. It was the one that he has fielded since the first press conference of the pre-season, in Indonesia on 12 July and it related, of course, to whether he was about to sign that bloody contract.
The Arsenal manager is not the only one for whom the saga has long since trampled down the boundaries of tedium. From his side, he has said on many occasions that he has promised his club of nearly 18 years that he will extend beyond the end of the season, when his terms are due to expire.
There has sometimes been levity to his delivery of the same answer. After the West Bromwich Albion game two weeks ago, he said that he was from "an ancestral period where you didn't need a pen to commit". The Wengers are of proud lineage, whose word is their bond; who favour blood to ink.
But, mostly, Wenger has been increasingly stroppy when pressed on the issue, particularly before matches, when he tends to be more guarded. He does not have, say, Sir Alex Ferguson's capacity to glower but you know when he feels that lines have been crossed and he is unhappy. "Yes, of course," Wenger added, after he was asked whether he remained confident about staying at Arsenal. "I don't think I have to repeat that in every press conference."
Wenger has still not signed. He will not do so before the FA Cup final against Hull City at 5pm on Saturday and the questions that have built around his dallying have essentially distilled into one. Why is he waiting until after the Cup final?
Wenger also said after the West Brom match that "it [the contract extension] is not linked with the FA Cup at all [but] it was, of course, important to be in the Champions League". Arsenal had secured a top-four finish when Everton lost to Manchester City on 3 May and so, for the past two weeks, there has seemingly been no obstacle to Wenger's signing.
In PR terms, the club know that it might have been an idea to make the announcement before the final, in which Arsenal are such overwhelming favourites that Wenger's potential gains in victory stand to be heavily outweighed by the damage in defeat.
But he has been unmoved. Perhaps, he is just being a stubborn 64-year-old, determined to do things purely when he is good and ready which, in turn, reflects the level of control he enjoys at the club.
It is also possible that Wenger is battling to wring every last penny out of the deal. He has always fought for what he can get from his contracts – maintaining, not unreasonably, that he deserves it – before he fights with everything he has for the club. It could be no coincidence that stories of Monaco's willingness to make him a massive offer have emerged in the past few weeks.
But what nags away, in the face of the assurances from the chief executive Ivan Gazidis and all of Wenger's rhetoric, is what might happen if the team slipped up against Hull and that section of the support who have already lost faith in Wenger erupted once more.
Anybody could predict the reaction to an Arsenal defeat, which would push the club's trophy drought into a 10th year; how Wenger and the players would be beaten over the head for failing at the big moment again.
To Wenger, it is already wearying. Would he have the strength to continue against the cloying narrative? Moreover, is he waiting on the contract in order to gauge the mood after the final?
Wenger says not, albeit he has to say it and the overwhelming likelihood is that he will extend whatever the result against Hull. But the "what if" question shadows him to Wembley; it bubbles at the back of people's minds. When Mikel Arteta was asked whether there might be any tiny doubt over Wenger, the club's press officer stepped in to say that it was not a question for the vice-captain.
Wenger would state the case for progress having been made this season even if the final were lost, mainly because there has been a serious title challenge, albeit one that faded at the end of March. But he has long been associated with a more holistic vision and there was insight into his mindset when he sensed conspiracy behind the talk of the long wait for silverware.
"It has become a way for everybody to think," Wenger said. "If you look at the overall consistency [of Arsenal], nobody has finished in the Champions League in England for 17 years. Nobody. But because we are used to winning every year and, suddenly, you don't win, it becomes a way of thinking and a way of making press conferences.
"You could go to some other clubs [and ask]: 'Why did you not win the championship for 20 years?' Nobody asks them the question. It has just become the non-creative way for everybody to organise press conferences."
Wenger has changed his attitude towards the FA Cup. The Premier League and Champions League remain his obsessions but he has selected stronger teams in the old domestic knockout competition. "Many times, the FA Cup conflicts with the Champions League, especially when you go into the fifth round," Wenger said. "So when we drew Bayern Munich [in the Champions League last 16], I thought: 'Let's not neglect the FA Cup'."
And yet it remains easy to detect the note of indifference. "Honestly, you win the next game or you lose it," Wenger said. "If you win it, what do you think? You think you dance for one week? You think about preparing well for the next season, and winning the first game of next season."
It was put to Wenger that he could dance all summer in Brazil, where he will attend the World Cup as a pundit for French TV, if Arsenal won the Cup. "I will not dance on the beach in Rio, believe me," he replied.
Wenger remembers the 2005 FA Cup penalty shootout win over Manchester United as being both "ugly" and "lucky". "I thought, 'How can they create so many goal chances against us'," he said. "I realise today that it was because they had Rooney and Ronaldo in full power."
Wenger is simply preoccupied by the difficult selection decisions for Wembley. Should he start with Jack Wilshere, who is only just back from a foot injury? Should the goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, who has played in every domestic cup tie of the season, keep his place ahead of the first-choice, Wojciech Szczesny?
Wenger dropped Richard Wright for the 2002 FA Cup final, having previously started him from the fourth round onwards. David Seaman played in the 2-0 victory over Chelsea.
"My job is to make decisions that are sometimes tough," Wenger said. "That one was hard but I believe it is much harder to lose the game. You do what it takes to win."