ARSENE WENGER could not help himself.
Playing mind games with the Arsenal fans is a temptation he seems unable to resist.
But, just hours after Wenger added to the uncertainty over his future by claiming ‘I can’t tell you’ if Sunday’s clash with Everton will be his last Emirates match as manager, the playing field was changed.
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Alisher Usmanov, sick of being locked out of Arsenal’s corridors of power for more than ten years, is now trying to kick down the boardroom door.
It was just about the last thing Wenger needed.
Usmanov knows that angry Gunners fans will see his £1BILLION offer to buy out Stan Kroenke’s majority shareholding and fund a genuine cash splurge to rebuild the squad as exactly what they want.
In the Emirates boardroom it is assumed Wenger will sign on for another two years, even though he is yet to confirm that in writing.
Certainly, football’s longest-serving manager did not sound like someone planning for retirement on Friday.
To qualify for the Champions League for a 20th successive season, Arsenal must beat Everton and hope Liverpool or Manchester City slip up.
Wenger, out of contract this summer, said: “What is most important for me is to finish the season as strongly as we can.
“I won’t be keeping track of the Liverpool or Manchester City scores. We’ll just focus on winning our game. We just want every team to give 100 per cent in their last game, as has traditionally been the case in England.
“I’ll be sad if we don’t win on Sunday, but if we get to 75 points I will feel we have done the job. Then we have to focus on the FA Cup final, so the season is not over.
“What happens to me is less important. I am here to serve the club and the best way to do it is to focus on the next game.
“There is a board meeting after the Cup final and there are many aspects which have to be discussed.
“One of them is what is happening with the manager, but we will also talk about the future, the players who have to come in, renewal of contracts. There will be an announcement after that but I don’t know when that’ll be.”
Asked if this will be his final home game, Wenger replied: “Of the season? Yes.” When pressed about his last EVER, he said: “I can’t tell you that.”
Usmanov’s decision to float the contents of his letter to Kroenke will be seen by a large number of fans as the only way that change will come.
Only last month, Usmanov, whose £11.791bn net worth is some £3bn MORE than that of Roman Abramovich, made clear where he pinned the blame for what is set to be Arsenal’s worst Prem season in two decades.
The Uzbek-born mogul, who owns 30 per cent of Arsenal’s shares, said: “I do not think the coach alone is to be blamed for what is happening. The board bear huge responsibility.
“Unfortunately, I am fully isolated from decision-making at Arsenal. All the responsibility for the fate of the club rests with the main shareholder.”
Kroenke’s sports empire also includes the LA Rams NFL franchise, NBA’s Denver Nuggets, ice-hockey outfit Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids in the MLS and lacrosse side Colorado Mammoth — all of them competing with the Gunners for the owner’s cash.
The lack of an immediate response from the tight-lipped American encouraged Usmanov’s people to believe serious consideration was being given to the bid, before the “No sale” message finally came back. Yet now the pressure is on the absentee owner to put in the kind of funds needed to catapult Arsenal back to the top level.
Recent fan demonstrations have included banners declaring ‘Love Arsenal, hate Kroenke’.
Wenger, who appeared more open to the idea of the appointment of a director of football, made it clear he expects Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to stay — despite both players about to enter the final year of their contracts.
He said: “First of all, they are still under contract and secondly, they behave like they want to be at the club. They don’t behave like players disinterested in the future of the club.”
Yet for too many Gunners fans, Kroenke is showing a lack of interest.
It is why Usmanov’s investment would be welcomed.
Kroenke and his cronies still hope Usmanov will run out of patience and take his money elsewhere.
But to paraphrase David Dein, discussing the impact of Abramovich in 2003, he has parked his tanks on the Emirates lawn and is firing £50 notes.