L’Equipe: Did you not sense doubt creeping in to the dressing room, and the dressing room losing its faith?
Wenger: No, and that’s what makes me optimistic, the fact the squad has remained positive, that they haven’t questioned the ideas. During the difficult period, something has maybe been forged; there has been a global evaluation that has taken time. I also needed this squad to give something back to me.
L’Equipe: You have said that in order to leave a mark you need to win trophies…
Wenger: Have we not won trophies? What you also need is to be consistent at the highest level. This club has participated in the Champions League for 14 seasons. Can one really talk about blank years? Between 2005 and 2011, we have played a final, a semi-final and two quarter-finals. But I don’t want to settle for that. I would have liked to win the Champions League and I still dream of doing so. We have always flirted with trophies, and fought for the top places in a fantastic league.
L’Equipe: Have you feared for your job?
Wenger: No, that is something you store somewhere deep down, but you don’t speculate about it. There has been no indication from within the club that would make me think about that.
L’Equipe: You even received an ovation at the last AGM, whereas a year ago you were heavily criticised…
Wenger: People have understood that I am doing what I can and that, in the face of a storm, I have been solid and I’ve stayed on course. They also know that I was working on a long-term project and that I turned down some huge offers in order to accompany it. People are grateful for that. They have opted for unity and shown faith. I have been loyal. They know I am still 100 percent committed to this club.
L’Equipe: But it looks like you are obliged to rebuild once more. Just like at the start…
Wenger: It’s true, a new cycle is starting. When we left Highbury, I set my sights on a long-term project with a young team. It didn’t produce the results I’d hoped for. Yes, we have to rebuild.
L’Equipe: With you? Will you embark on another long spell?
Wenger: No, as far as I am concerned, we are now talking pretty short term, that’s obvious. But whether it is with me or someone else, that changes nothing. The person that comes in after me will need foundations on which he can obtain success.
L’Equipe: Will you still be here in 15 years?
L’Equipe: And next season?
Wenger: We’ll look at things at the end of this one. I still have two years to run on my contract.
L’Equipe: Your name has been circulating for a few months in Paris…
Wenger: Let it circulate.
L’Equipe: You are very close to PSG’s Qatari owners. That could be helpful, no?
Wenger: There’s no point in trying to lead me down that path. I told you I am totally implicated in what I am doing. I don’t for a second have a desire to leave Arsenal. And the difficulties we had at the start of the season have only sharpened my desire to fight. When they asked for my opinion, I encouraged the PSG owners to have faith in Antoine Kombouare, who is a very good coach. There you go, just because we are friends doesn’t mean we are going to work together. Sometimes it is even better to avoid it in order to stay friends.
L’Equipe: Why has your marriage with Arsenal worked so well?
Wenger: The meeting came about at the right time. The club needed someone to take on a vast project and I have taken an active role. I like courage and this club is courageous. In 1996, for a club that represented the tradition of English football, going and getting an unknown Frenchman from Japan was a bit rash. So historically, Arsenal have been courageous, innovatory. They try to do things with class and style. That’s why I defend them with so much fierceness. Because of these values. They mean a lot to me and I like to defend them.
L’Equipe: Your personal investment goes way beyond the pitch. Do you consider yourself the architect of modern-day Arsenal?
Wenger: I have had the fortune of working with complete freedom. We have established a style of play, constructed a new training complex, a new stadium. At the end of the day, whoever is the owner or the manager, the club has a viable model. Arsenal do not need to worry about investors running away because we only spend what we earn. It hasn’t been easy to keep our standards up whilst spending 500 million euros on the Emirates Stadium, including 150 million on the pitch alone. Bayern Munich, for example, spent one euro, a symbolic sum, on their pitch at the Allianz Arena. At this moment in time, there’s only 116 million left to reimburse. Arsenal can sleep in peace.
L’Equipe: What would you consider to be your personal stamp after 15 years? Have you participated in the technical evolution of the English game?
Wenger: It would be presumptuous for me to claim that. Sometimes I hear it said. What counts is the mark I leave on the club, the style of play that has been adopted at every level, by all the youth teams. With time, like Ferguson at Manchester United, I have become part of the historic memory of the game. The real luxury in this job is having time.
L’Equipe: Does 15 years feel like a long time?
Wenger: In fact, the time goes by at the speed of light, and all of these years haven’t at all changed the fact that I’m always looking ahead to the next match, hoping it will be a perfect match but knowing it won’t be. 15 years have gone by but I remain addicted to the next match, like a drug.
L’Equipe: Why are you smiling?
Wenger: I was thinking about a 10 year old kid who might have come to watch Arsenal for the first time with his dad in 1996. I was thinking that he’d now be 25, and he will have known only one chap on the bench. That makes me think I’m the manager of an entire generation.