Arsène Wenger had said he would not “dance on the beach in Rio” if Arsenal won the FA Cup. In the event, he did diving headers. The images of the 64-year-old manager enjoying a bit of beach football at the World Cup, during a break from his work as a TV pundit, seemed to reflect his insatiable appetite for the game.
Wenger feels renewed ahead of the Premier League season, and it is difficult to overestimate how important a part the FA Cup final victory over Hull City last May has played. The 3-2 extra-time win brought his club a first trophy in nine years and it led to him signing a contract for another three-year cycle at the Emirates. It is possible that no one will ever know how close he came to walking away, although he did offer a hint on Friday.
“I wanted to feel that I had done a good job and, of course, the fact we could not win [trophies] was going on in my mind,” Wenger said. “What if we had not won anything? I don’t want to answer that question.”
The Wenger contract issue was one of the sideshows of last season. It was at the top of the agenda at his first press conference of the pre-season in Jakarta, on the opening leg of the club’s east Asia tour and it is fair to say that it developed into a monster.
There is now the feeling of greater security and contentment, and it has been bolstered by the club’s transfer business. Never before has Wenger spent so heavily during a window, with the £31m deal for the Barcelona forward Alexis Sánchez being the one to set the pulses racing.
He has been followed by the right-back Mathieu Debuchy to offset the blow of Bacary Sagna’s Bosman departure to Manchester City; the Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina and the defender Calum Chambers. Ospina currently has a minor thigh problem. Arsenal have acted swiftly, which has not always been a hallmark of their business and Wenger said he was not finished yet, raising supporters’ hopes that he could move for a defensive midfielder.
Wenger being Wenger, he was evasive over names but he did not seem to discount the notion of Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira or Morgan Schneiderlin of Southampton, although he did go on to rattle off the long list of midfielders who were already at his disposal. He also confirmed that the Costa Rica striker Joel Campbell, who starred at the World Cup, would be a part of his plans. Campbell, who has so far been out on loan, will feature at the Emirates Cup this weekend, when Arsenal face Benfica and Monaco.
“We have more confidence than at the beginning of last season but our opponents have also strengthened so it’s hard to predict,” Wenger said. “The balance of power in the Premier League is a bit more even than it was five or six years ago. With FFP added to the fact that we have more financial power than five years ago, it gives us a better chance.
“Last season and this, it has changed. We have had the financial power to do it. But in the seasons before, we could not. I was sitting here and saying: ‘Who will go next?’ We’ve managed to get in a better position. It’s a vicious circle. Once you get great players in, everybody wants to stay. You see the case with Southampton. Would Schneiderlin absolutely want to go if everybody stayed?”
Wenger’s signing of Chambers from Southampton for £16m follows his purchases of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from the south coast club.
“I respect the quality of work Southampton have done because if you think of the team they had last season, plus Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gareth Bale – they could have won the European Cup had they managed to keep everybody together,” Wenger said. “But unfortunately, the modern game has changed and the smaller clubs with less potential are not in a position any more to keep their players.”
Asked about his interest in Schneiderlin, Wenger said: “I wouldn’t like to speak about any names because I wouldn’t like to unsettle Southampton and we have not spoken to Southampton about him.”
Wenger said that Sánchez could play against Monaco on Sunday and even enjoy a brief run-out against Benfica on Saturday. He has tracked the Chilean since his time at Udinese and he believes that he can play as a striker or out wide.
“At the moment, I want to see him in both positions, to see him,” Wenger said. “But I took him because he is a player who has the qualities of Walcott – he goes behind the defenders off the ball. With the quality of his runs, he can be very important for us. I love pace and when we lost Walcott [to injury in January], we suffered a little bit on that front.
“Sánchez is a striker. He is a good finisher, who made a great impression at Udinese. At Barcelona, it was a bit more difficult but it’s like you could see with Neymar at Barcelona, because there you have [Lionel] Messi. You see Neymar with Brazil and Neymar with Barcelona and it’s not the same. I like the fact that Sánchez can play left, right and up front.”