Arsène Wenger has instructed his Arsenal players to recover their focus and not to use the uncertainty over his future as an excuse for falling short of the required standards.
The manager continued on Thursday to be bombarded with questions over his intentions, which he continued to deflect, and it was easy to see the issue as a distraction for everybody at the club. Wenger is out of contract in the summer and although he said he was “very clear” about what he wants to do, he once again refused to make it public.
He was more concerned with arresting the worst slump of his long stay in the Premier League – Arsenal have lost four of their past five matches in the competition – and he knows that Sunday's visit of Manchester City is vital on many levels.
Wenger was critical of how his players had performed in their previous game – the 3-1 loss at West Bromwich Albion – acknowledging that "there was something missing". He did not rule out the possibility they had underestimated Albion or even allowed their minds to wander to the international fixtures. His message for the City game was plain. The players have to show their steel.
“Is my situation causing instability? No,” Wenger said. “The priority in life is always to focus on what is important and not to look for excuses. At the moment our results are not going the way we want but, as well, we have to make sure that the priority for us is what happens on the pitch. Being professional is to perform on the football pitch and not to find escape excuses where I think there are none.
"The West Brom game was the kind you can get in England. I agree that we had blind possession – we had 70 per cent possession [but] going nowhere. With the possession we had, we had not enough goal chances. We had two shots on goal. When you have 70 per cent of the ball, that's not good enough. We were caught where West Brom are strong and where we are usually quite good – defending set-pieces.
“Is it down to the fact that the players went to international games and had their minds not completely [there]? Were we underestimating West Brom? It’s difficult to say but I agree that something was missing there.”
Wenger also addressed another well-worn theme – the future of his star player, Alexis Sánchez. The Chile forward, whose contract expires in the summer of 2018, has emerged as a target for Chelsea and on Wednesday he was quoted as saying that he was "happy in London and I want to finish my contract. I like to stay in one place, one city, where the team fights for titles".
“I interpret that in a very positive way – there is only one team in London, so he’s happy,” Wenger said with a smile. “It is true that we were in positions before where, financially, we had to sell our best players. That’s not the case any more. Sánchez has one-and-a-half years left on his contract. I don’t think it’s an immediate concern to Arsenal football club.”
Like Sánchez, Mesut Özil will enter the final 12 months of his contract in the summer and the club will wait until then to discuss terms with both players.
“Once you go into the final two or three months of the season, everybody is more focused on the end of the season and you give yourself more time [to negotiate] in a more relaxed atmosphere between the two seasons,” Wenger said. “They are not out of contract at the end of the season. I personally believe that both of them want to stay and I hope that the club will find an agreement with them.”
Wenger reported that Sánchez and Özil were fit to face City in light of the former limping off at The Hawthorns with ankle trouble and the latter missing out altogether because of a hamstring problem. Sánchez and Özil featured for Chile and Germany respectively during the international break. Petr Cech (calf) and Lucas Pérez (thigh) have joined Santi Cazorla on the injury list.
On the subject of his own future, Wenger said: “I’ve always been very clear in my mind. I will remain like that. It’s a subject that, at the moment, is not sorted completely out. But anyway, do I stay two months or two years? My commitment will be exactly the same.” Guardian service