LONDON, May 1 – Arsene Wenger believes he retains the support of the majority for Arsenal supporters following a day of protest at the Emirates Stadium.
A pre-arranged demonstration saw a number of fans hold up signs saying “time for change” during the 12th minute of Arsenal’s narrow, 1-0 home victory over relegation-threatened Norwich City on Saturday.
The timing of the protest was reference to the fact that it is 12 years since Arsenal last won the Premier League title — too long a gap in the eyes of many of the north London club’s supporters, for all the Gunners have consistently finished in the top four in the intervening period.
But the cries criticising the Arsenal manager were drowned out by expressions of support, with other fans chanting “there’s only one Arsene Wenger”.
“It was a strange atmosphere but we have to live with that and overall the fans, some were protesting yes, but the big majority didn’t and the big majority was behind the team and they showed they appreciate what I have done until now,” said Wenger, Arsenal’s manager since September 1996.
“I heard them (the chants of support) but I was focused on the game, my job is to win football games so once the game starts I focus on that. You can do both. I acknowledged the crowd.”
– ‘Disappointed love’ –
The 66-year-old Frenchman continued: “I am a professional that has given 20 years to this club and have given my best for this club and have to accept the judgement of people.
“The only thing I don’t doubt is my sincere commitment to this club. I am sorry that I cannot keep 100 percent happy but maybe that is because we have been remarkably consistent.
“This season is a bit special as well,” he added of a campaign where Leicester, once 5,000/1 rank outsiders, are on the verge of being crowned champions.
“We were in a position for a long time where our fans believed we could win the league. We didn’t and that is why it is more disappointed love than aggression and we have to accept that.”
Danny Welbeck’s 59th-minute goal ensured a difficult afternoon ended on a positive note for Wenger and his players, although Alexis Sanchez’s reaction when substituted suggested the Chile striker was unhappy at being withdrawn.
Sanchez went straight down the tunnel after being replaced late on and Wenger said: “My job is to make decision and to make people 100 percent happy there as well is very difficult.”
Victory moved Arsenal eight points clear of fifth position and strengthened their bid to secure a Champions League place.
“It was a much-wanted win, and needed and difficult,” said Wenger. “We played against a team very well-organised and didn’t find a good pace in our game.
“But we were serious and organised and in the end we got the win.”
Defeat left Norwich second bottom and in a three-way fight with Sunderland and Newcastle United to avoid going down with already-relegated Aston Villa.
“The difference is just one game,” said Norwich manager Alex Neil. “If Sunderland lose or draw and we win, we will go above them. But we know we need to pick up points between now and the end of the season.
“The last thing you can do down in the dogfight is feel sorry for yourselves.
“If you start worrying about the maths and what other people are doing then it’ll drive you crazy. We have two games coming up and they will be key for us.
“We’ve got Manchester United and then Watford. We have to take maximum points from that.”