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Arsène Wenger hints he could stay at Arsenal for at least four more years

Arsène Wenger has said his appetite for management remains strong and he has hinted he wants to continue for at least four more years – preferably at Arsenal.

The Frenchman, whose 20-year reign at the club reached a crisis point on Wednesday with the 5-1 mauling at Bayern Munich, said he has no intention of following his old adversary Sir Alex Ferguson into retirement, intimating that, unlike the Scot, he has no other passions that he wishes to pursue. Wenger seems wedded to football management, for better or for worse.

The criticism following Arsenal’s latest Champions League embarrassment has left Wenger’s relationship with the club looking more fragile now than at any other point since he arrived in October 1996 but, as he prepares for Monday’s FA Cup game with Sutton United, he is adamant that he, for one, has no desire to end his association with the club.

Wenger drew a distinction between himself and Ferguson, who stepped down from Manchester United in 2013 and has since devoted himself to other activities, such as watching the race horses he owns and lecturing on leadership at Harvard University. By contrast, there is still nowhere Wenger would rather be than on the training ground or in the dugout. “Ferguson has some other interests in life and he was older [when he retired] than I am today,” said Wenger. “He was four years older. He retired at 71 and I’m 67.”

Asked whether that meant he planned to carry on for another four years, Wenger replied: “Maybe more, maybe less, I don’t know. Everybody is different. I do not want to take anything away from Ferguson, he was an absolutely unbelievable manager, but he had enough. He had enough. And I’m not at that stage.”

The two-year contract extension offered to Wenger remains unsigned and he has said he will not decide whether to accept or reject it until March or April. By then he will have a better idea as to how much he wants to stay and, more pertinently, how much others want him to stay.

Discontent among Arsenal supporters is rising and Wenger hinted that he may ultimately have little choice but to leave. When asked about the prospect of managing a club other than Arsenal he joked: “Maybe if you have a club you can employ me.” But he changed his tone when asked whether hinting at a move to another club was intended as a veiled threat to Arsenal. “No, it’s not a threat, not at all,” he said. “My preference is always to manage Arsenal and I have shown that.”

At that point he suggested he is wise enough to know that this time his preference may not be practical. “I am adult enough to analyse the situation,” he said.

For now Wenger is concentrating on ensuring his team finish the current campaign as well as possible – and that means coming to terms with a defeat that they will never fully get over. The collapse in Munich will leave scars.

“You keep that with you for your whole life,” he said. “But on the other hand, if we dwell too much on the past we forget to prepare for the future. Part of a successful life is to basically deal with disappointments and focus 100% on what is in front of you and show you can deal with that.”

He considers the rest of the season, starting with Monday’s FA Cup tie at non-league Sutton United, where defeat would be unthinkable, to be a test of the mental strength and solidarity in his squad. “I would say it’s more about character and being united because it’s important you do not get in a blame culture and [instead] focus on being united to respond well.”

There has been wide condemnation for Mesut Özil’s performance in Munich to such an extent that the player’s agent complained publicly that the player was a scapegoat for the team’s ills. Wenger agreed that it is wrong to single out one player for blame. “When you have a heavy defeat like that it’s difficult to come out on one individual because you look at the way we conceded goals and you can as well criticise some other players. But overall it is always up to every single player to get up to the next level and he [Özil] is like everybody else.”

Wenger said the FA Cup is not his team’s only realistic remaining target this season despite their margin of defeat in the first leg of their Champions League tie and the 10-point gap between them and leaders Chelsea in the Premier League. “We have to finish as high as we can now, the championship is not over and we have to fight for the championship as well,” he said.

The relationship between Arsène Wenger and Arsenal looks more strained now than at any time in the Frenchman’s 20-year tenure at the club. Photograph: John Walton/PA

The relationship between Arsène Wenger and Arsenal looks more strained now than at any time in the Frenchman’s 20-year tenure at the club. Photograph: John Walton/PA

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