Arsene Wenger: Arsenal manager says he had doubts over future

Arsene Wenger
Wenger, who has been in charge of Arsenal for 21 years, is the longest serving manager in Europe

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says he "hesitated" over signing a new contract last season because he doubted whether he was "capable of leading the club".

Wenger agreed a two-year deal in May, a month before his contract expired.

On French TV programme Telefoot, he said there were "personal reasons" behind the decision to delay extending his 21-year reign at the Gunners.

But he added: "I've been there for so long that you always wonder, can you still take the team to the next level?"

Arsenal finished fifth in the Premier League last season - the first time they have finished outside the top four since Wenger joined in 1996 - before beating Chelsea to win the FA Cup.

Wenger's side began their new league campaign with a 4-3 victory at home to Leicester, before losing 1-0 at Stoke and 4-0 at Liverpool.

"I've been at Arsenal many years and last season we struggled a lot," the 67-year-old Frenchman said.

"This year we won our first game, we weren't as good in the second match and then we had a catastrophic performance.

"But now we have to recover and, as always in a time of crisis, you have to win your next game."

Wenger was also asked about Arsenal's transfer deadline-day bid for 21-year-old Monaco midfielder Thomas Lemar.

A fee in the region of £90m was reportedly agreed, but Wenger revealed the player "decided to stay at Monaco".

'Arsene Who?' - Wenger remembers joining Arsenal

Asked if he planned to return with another attempt to sign the France international, Wenger said: "Yes. I think he's a player who has great quality."

He also said he had wanted to sign France striker Kylian Mbappe, who joined Paris St-Germain on loan before a permanent 180m euro transfer.

"Well, 180m is a bit too high for us," said Wenger, who described the 18-year-old as "the next Pele".

Yes or no?

Wenger was also asked several questions to which he could only reply 'yes' or 'no'.

Q: Could you ever coach another club?

Wenger: Yes.

Q: Have you had contact with PSG?

Wenger: Yes.

Q: Would you swap all your trophies for one Champions League?

Wenger: No.

Q: But not having won it really bothers you?

Wenger: No.

Q: Can you win league this year?

Wenger: Yes.

Q: Are you disappointed with your transfer window?

Wenger: No.

Analysis: How Arsenal's transfer window played out

By David Ornstein, BBC Sport:

Arsenal spent more than £100m in the summer of 2016 and I was told by several sources they would have even greater funds for the transfer window just gone. The club report that a significant chunk of the budget went on Alexandre Lacazette's transfer fee - in excess of £50m - and the salaries of Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac.

To make further major signings - Thomas Lemar was the priority - and fulfil Arsene Wenger's pledge of keeping Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal would have to bolster their transfer kitty and create space on a wage bill in need of careful management to avoid breaching the Premier League's salary control rules.

As such, clubs and agents were made aware that offers would be entertained for the likes of Wojciech Szczesny, Olivier Giroud, Jack Wilshere, Mohamed Elneny, Kieran Gibbs, Calum Chambers and Carl Jenkinson.

Wenger was stunned and bitterly disappointed when Oxlade-Chamberlain rejected the club's final contract offer - an enormous pay rise that would have earned him close to £180,000 per week if Arsenal made it back into the Champions League - and asked to be sold.

Oxlade-Chamberlain's price was £35m, potentially rising to £40m, while money also came in for Szczesny, Gabriel and Gibbs. On the face of it, that meant Arsenal finished the window in profit, although it is unclear if or how much of Oxlade-Chamberlain's fee was owed to his former club Southampton via a sell-on clause.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's decision to leave Arsenal left Wenger 'stunned and bitterly disappointed'

Towards the end of the window, Arsenal made it clear that there was no money remaining for any more major signings.

This was relayed to clubs and agents offering players to Arsenal and even journalists. The explanation followed that while some finance was available, it was not at the level required to make top-class signings and fund their salaries.

Bidding £92m for Lemar when it looked like £55/60m was coming in for Sanchez suggests they had at least £30m, excluding wages, to play with. Apparently the leftover funds will be used to safeguard Arsenal going forward, or in other words boost the budget for the next two windows.

Having filled the positions Wenger identified as a priority, retained key players and shifted plenty out, Arsenal feel they are stronger than they were a year ago.

There is certainly internal concern that the weakness in central midfield went unaddressed - and I understand that in the days leading up to the deadline Wenger did look at rectifying this, though it was too late - but generally the hierarchy were happy with the window and optimistic for the campaign.

The noises from the top are that owner Stan Kroenke is desperate and hungrier than even win trophies, but there is no hiding the fact that he will not be injecting a penny of his own wealth to assist the quest.

Kroenke and the club are said to believe Arsenal can punch above their weight to triumph using their existing model.

Bearing in mind that model has shown little sign of leading Arsenal to the level of glory they claim to crave, and that some of their rivals appear to be accelerating away, it remains to be seen if the commitment to self-sustainability will be reconsidered in the future.

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