LONDON: Chelsea manager Antonio Conte does not believe Saturday’s meeting with Arsenal in the FA Cup final will be Arsene Wenger’s last game as manager of the north London club.
Wenger is yet to extend his contract with Arsenal, which runs out at the end of the season, and has come under fire from fans after failing to secure Champions League qualification for the first time in 20 years.
But Conte believes it is unfair to suggest Wenger’s time at the Emirates Stadium will soon be up and says the achievements of the Frenchman’s 21-year Arsenal tenure should not be overlooked.
“I know very well Arsenal’s history in the FA Cup and also with Arsene,” Conte said of Wenger, who is bidding to win a record seventh FA Cup.
“They won a lot of trophies in this tournament. I never won this trophy and I think for this reason, tomorrow could be a good possibility for me and my team to lift the trophy.
“For sure I don’t trust that tomorrow will be the last game for Arsene. I think he deserves to work with Arsenal. Because he showed in this 20 years to be a great manager.
“He did a good job and only this season they missed the Champions League. In England, this target, sometimes you can undervalue this. But Arsenal played for 19 years in a row in this competition.
“I think this shows his work was very good. He won titles with his team. But we have to play great attention (due to the uncertainty) in modern football.”
Asked during his pre-match press conference at Stamford Bridge if Wenger deserved to be considered one of the greats, Conte was emphatic.
“For sure, for sure,” said the Italian.
“Because when you stay for so long time in the same team — and we’re talking about a great team like Arsenal, not a simple team — we must consider him one of the best managers in history.
“Don’t forget that he won and he won a lot. When you stay for a long time in the same team, someone can forget this. But for sure, Arsene Wenger is a great manager for me.”
Conte ‘happy to stay’
Conte did reveal, however, that during a fact-finding mission to England earlier in his coaching career, he was denied an opportunity to watch Wenger put his players through their paces in training.
“I tried to contact Arsenal during my experience in England when I visited Chelsea, West Ham and Tottenham,” Conte said.
“But in that moment they were very busy and for this reason I haven’t the possibility. I saw Arsenal against Monaco when they lost at home in the Champions League (in February 2015).
“But I didn’t have the opportunity to see Wenger doing his job during the training session. I would have liked to, but it wasn’t possible.”
Conte is hoping to emulate his Italian countryman Carlo Ancelotti by steering Chelsea to a Premier League and FA Cup Double in his first season at the club.
His own contract has two years left to run and he said he would be more than happy to extend it.
“At the moment my situation is very clear,” he said.
“I have two years’ contract with the club. If the club give me the possibility to stay here and extend my contract, for sure I’m available to do this.
“We have the same idea about the future, the way we have to do together, to improve the squad and the team. And I’m happy for this season. I’m happy to stay here and I hope to stay here for many years.”
Arsenal are facing a defensive injury crisis, with Laurent Koscielny suspended, Gabriel injured and Shkodran Mustafi doubtful due to concussion, but Conte reported no injury problems.