Arsene Wenger says contract doubts contributed to Arsenal's top-four failure
LONDON (AP) – Arsene Wenger stood impassively on the touchline with his arms folded as his Arsenal players embarked on a lap of the pitch.
Wenger's worst-ever Premier League season was over and so were Arsenal's hopes of making the Champions League. For the first time in the manager's 21-year reign, Arsenal finished outside the top four, despite completing the campaign on Sunday with a 3-1 victory over Everton.
Wenger didn't bid farewell to the Arsenal fans but there is still no certainty he will be back to lead the team into the uncharted territory of the Europa League after finishing fifth in the Premier League, a point behind Liverpool.
The 67-year-old Frenchman's contract is entering its final weeks and uncertainty about his future has persisted for months.
Wenger has not said if he wants to stay. Arsenal has not said if it wants to keep Wenger.
And amid the uncertainty, Arsenal's season has foundered in the competitions that matter most.
''It has been difficult yes,'' Wenger said. ''Certainly my personal situation has contributed to that. But I'm professional. As long as I am somewhere I do my job until the last day.
''You cannot question my love or my loyalty to this club because I've said no to every club in the world to stay here with very restricted finances for years.''
What's unclear is why Wenger is being so coy.
''I'm not protecting anybody,'' he said, continuing to take reporters' questions as he headed to the door following Sunday's post-match news conference.
Wenger is not ready to give anything away, yet. A resolution is not expected before Saturday's FA Cup final against Chelsea, the newly-crowned league champion. The competition has provided a buffer against fan protests, with Wenger lifting the trophy in 2014 and 2015.
It is the failure to win the league since 2004 that causes the most angst around the Emirates Stadium. Much of the vitriol on Sunday was directed against Stan Kroenke, with chants calling for the American sports tycoon to sell up after six years as owner. Minority shareholder Alisher Usmanov has been trying to buy out Kroenke, but bids have been resisted.
''I respect Stan Kroenke a lot,'' Wenger said. ''He's not at fault if we did not reach the Champions League tonight. It's the technical department that is responsible for that. I don't see what he has to do with that.''
Wenger has thrived on his proud record of being England's constant representative in the Champions League for 19 successive seasons. Only once, though, has the north London club come close to winning the trophy - losing to Barcelona in the 2006 final. Arsenal has been eliminated in the round of 16 for seven consecutive seasons, but just being in the competition provides tens of millions of dollars in income from UEFA and helps to attract players.
''It's very sad because for 20 years we were in it,'' Wenger said. ''Of course you can look everywhere for where we dropped this point. Overall I believe that we played since January in a very difficult environment for different reasons. Some obviously that you have known about, and that is very difficult for a group of players to cope with that. And some other reasons that I will talk about another day.
''But the psychological environment for that group of players was absolutely horrendous and I'm very proud of what they have done, the way they responded and finished the season.''
So why didn't he join his players on that lap of appreciation after goals from Hector Bellerin, Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey secured a fifth successive win to close out the league campaign?
''They have been disturbed enough,'' Wenger said. ''I was out there to show respect, but I wanted the players to just have a quiet lap of honor that they deserve.''