Football: Happy Arsene Wenger leaves it to Arsenal's board

Chelsea’s players, led by Gary Cahill (centre), observe a minute’s silence in memory of the Manchester bombing victims. The Blues, however, initially forgot to wear black armbands.
Chelsea’s players, led by Gary Cahill (centre), observe a minute’s silence in memory of the Manchester bombing victims. The Blues, however, initially forgot to wear black armbands. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Alexis Sanchez puts Arsenal in front after having two calls go his way. The Chilean was not punished for a handball in the build-up while team-mate Aaron Ramsey was deemed to have not been interfering with play despite clearly straying offside.
Alexis Sanchez puts Arsenal in front after having two calls go his way. The Chilean was not punished for a handball in the build-up while team-mate Aaron Ramsey was deemed to have not been interfering with play despite clearly straying offside. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Chelsea’s Victor Moses goes to ground too easily for referee Anthony Taylor’s liking, earning the Nigerian a second yellow card for simulation.
Chelsea’s Victor Moses goes to ground too easily for referee Anthony Taylor’s liking, earning the Nigerian a second yellow card for simulation. PHOTO: REUTERS
Arsenal lifting the trophy for the 13th time after an eventful game at Wembley packed with controversy.
Arsenal lifting the trophy for the 13th time after an eventful game at Wembley packed with controversy. PHOTO: REUTERS

Arsenal coach plays down impact of record seventh FA Cup on his future after controversial victory

LONDON • If it does transpire that Arsenal's 2-1 FA Cup final victory over Chelsea on Saturday was manager Arsene Wenger's final game in charge, it would have been a memorable way to sign off.

The Frenchman's brow has been constantly furrowed this season with intense speculation about his future overshadowing a campaign that saw the Gunners fail to finish in the top four for the first time since he took charge in 1996.

But amid a Cup final that would be remembered for the wrong reasons, from Chelsea initially forgetting to wear black armbands for the Manchester attack victims, to Victor Moses throwing his armband away after being sent off, Wenger was all smiles at the final whistle.

The 67-year-old joined the ecstatic celebrations on the Wembley pitch where Aaron Ramsey's late header ensured Arsenal have now won three of the last four FA Cups.

Alexis Sanchez had scored the opening goal as early as the fourth minute for the Gunners, while Diego Costa equalised just three minutes before Ramsey's goal.

Yet back in the bowels of the stadium, where questions quickly turned to Wenger's future, he kept his cards close to his chest, refusing to offer any real clues as to whether the victory represented a glorious farewell or the springboard for future success under his command.

JUST ONE GAME

This doesn't influence anything. It would be a bit ridiculous that 20 years depends on one game and that the future of the club depends on one game.

ARSENE WENGER, Arsenal's long-serving coach, deriding suggestions that his side's Cup win offers hints at his Emirates stay.

"This doesn't influence anything," record seven-time FA Cup winner Wenger told reporters.

"It would be a bit ridiculous that 20 years depends on one game and that the future of the club depends on one game.

"Overall I just want to do well for this club and apart from that it's down to the board members to decide whether I'm the right man to take this club further. Let's enjoy the win tonight and not worry about the future."

He added that more light would be shed on his situation after the board meets on Tuesday, but there seems little doubt Wenger is still held in high regard by his players.

On his manager's future, Ramsey said: "Of course I want him to stay at the club. He deserves this.

"We changed the formation and had a lot of success. Fair play to him, he changed the system. Hopefully, he'll be here next season."

Premier League champions Chelsea courted controversy by not sporting black armbands when the match started with a minute's silence in honour of the victims of last Monday's Manchester Arena attack.

The team returned with armbands in the second half, stating they had simply forgotten about it, but not before sparking a backlash on social media.

"It has not been lost on fans around the world that Chelsea players, unlike Arsenal, are not wearing black armbands," sports presenter Sean Cardovillis tweeted shortly after kick-off.

Chelsea wing-back Moses stoked the fires when he was caught on camera discarding his armband in frustration after becoming the fifth player to be sent off in an FA Cup final.

An ecstatic Wenger paid tribute to his players' resilience and spirit. His side had also been less fancied in the semi-finals against Manchester City, which they also went on to win 2-1.

"You cannot get two tougher opponents, but we produced two outstanding performances," the Arsenal manager said.

"That is what makes me particularly proud, because no one gave us a chance at Wembley and we responded with attitude and class.

"We had an outstanding performance from the first minute onwards. This team have suffered, but they've united and responded. They showed strength and unity and played spectacular football."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2017, with the headline 'Happy Wenger leaves it to board'. Print Edition | Subscribe