London: Arsene Wenger again found his future was the focus of attention ahead of Arsenal’s final game of the season against Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
At the Gunners’ last home game, some supporters staged a protest urging Wenger to quit and two weeks on, the Arsenal manager’s contract was again at issue, with the Frenchman insisting he would not consider extending his current deal until it is due to expire at the end of next season.
Wenger admitted he would see how next term pans out before deciding on his next move and the same no doubt applies to the club, although the 66-year-old enjoys strong backing from the board.
A repeat of this season’s frustration will leave Wenger in a similar position, but it is a measure of the consistency he has brought to the club that a likely third place finish in the Premier League is viewed as a disappointment.
They could even finish second if Tottenham lose at Newcastle and Arsenal beat bottom club Villa.
But the main difference this season is the widely held belief this was the best chance Arsenal had of winning the title in years.
“It was a strange season. We’ve finished the season disappointed because we felt we had the chance to win the championship,” Wenger said.
“Of course we are frustrated but Leicester have had consistent results and the rest of the division have had ups and downs.
“Everybody else can be frustrated but Leicester only lost three games this season. Nobody else had the same consistency.
“Is it down to the fact that Leicester were a surprise package? Is it down to the fact that they only played one competition?
“Certainly there’s some explanation there, but if you only analyse the technical numbers, there’s no rationale.
“That’s why you have to say they have been absolutely remarkable and you have to congratulate them.”
– Standards -The possibility of finishing behind bitter rivals Tottenham for the first time in Wenger’s 20-year tenure also hurts.
“We want to finish as high as possible and, if possible, in front of Spurs,” Wenger added.
“We want to finish second, because Leicester are now champions, so we will fight until the end.
“If we are not second, then hopefully we will finish third, but ideally we want to finish in front of Spurs.”
Arsenal will be without England forward Danny Welbeck, who has been ruled out for nine months after picking up a knee injury at Manchester City last weekend.
Aston Villa will look to end their dismal season with just their fourth victory in the league, with their fate of relegation having been sealed mathematically almost a month ago.
Their players will depart for their holidays after the final whistle at the Emirates Stadium, not knowing who will own the club or who will manage the team into next season.
But caretaker boss Eric Black has ordered the players not to repeat the mistakes of this campaign in their future careers.
“The only discussions I have had with them is ‘try to ensure that you’re never part of anything like this again’,” he said.
“Don’t allow any standards to drop and don’t drop to other people’s standards.
“I know it’s a team sport but you’ve got to be single-minded to have the best career you can possibly have in football and that was the only advice I gave them.
“It’s about personal pride and your career so they have to learn from what’s happened and don’t allow it to ever happen again.
“I think Aston Villa will come again, I really do. I am confident we will see a very strong Aston Villa next year and very soon they will be back in the Premier League.”