Arsene Wenger lets England speculation linger
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has refused to completely rule out accepting a potential offer to take charge of England at the end of the season.
Wenger has been linked with the England job following the Football Association’s decision to part company with Sam Allardyce on Tuesday.
Quizzed on possible England interest after Wednesday’s 2-0 Champions League win over Basel, Wenger stopped short of confirming he would snub an FA approach.
Allardyce’s self-inflicted exit after his controversial comments to undercover reporters has left the FA searching for a new boss and they have appointed England Under-21 coach Gareth Southgate as interim manager to buy them time.
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Southgate will pick the team for England’s remaining four matches this year and could be persuaded to remain in charge until the end of the season if there was a chance to hire a top-class coach like Wenger.
Wenger, who is this week celebrating 20 years with Arsenal, underlined his commitment to the club, but also said his future was only tied to the north Londoners until the end of the season.
Asked if he was flattered to be linked with the job, Wenger said: “Of course, but my priority has always been this club and until the end of this season I am here.
“I’m completely focused on this club. Nothing will change on that.
“It [Allardyce leaving] was a huge surprise. Who could have predicted that 48 hours ago? Nobody...”
Wenger traditionally operates on a year-to-year basis these days and only decides whether he wants to continue as Arsenal’s manager late in each season.
That approach gives a little hope to the FA if they make Wenger their top target and he answered with a nod and a smile when asked if he knew the words to the English national anthem.
But, for now, the Frenchman, who years ago revealed he had once rejected an offer to manage England, is fully focused on maintaining Arsenal’s encouraging progress after they extended their unbeaten run to eight games.
“That is not decided,” Wenger said of his long-term plans.
“I said my priority was always Arsenal football club. I have to decide how well I do until the end of the season.”
If Wenger ever did take charge of England, he would be reunited with the player who inspired Wednesday’s swashbuckling display.
Just months after his career appeared in permanent decline, Arsenal winger Theo Walcott is enjoying a purple patch.
Walcott was hardly used towards the end of last season after a dismal campaign and was left out of England’s Euro 2016 squad.
However, showdown talks with Wenger gave him renewed focus and he has been one of Arsenal’s best players so far this season.
“We assessed where he stood and decided what needed to be added to his game. Ninety-five per cent was up to him,” Wenger said.
“The most important thing comes from the player himself. Top quality people assess performances in an objective way.
“Then you have to respond to what you see. At the moment, he is doing that well.”
After routing Chelsea 3-0 in the Premier League on Saturday and putting Basel to the sword five days later, Arsenal are enjoying a long-awaited renaissance, but Wenger insists it is too soon to start talking of his team as potential European champions.
“Yes it’s very much too early,” Wenger said. “We were a bit edgy at home for a few games but now we look to be improving.
“It looks like the team has interesting potential. We have to be ambitious, keep our feet on the ground and continue to develop.”
Basel manager Urs Fischer admitted his side had no answers for Arsenal’s vibrant display.
“We knew the first half would be very difficult and that Arsenal would create a lot of pressure,” he said.
“We made too many mistakes and lacked the courage to defend high up the pitch.”
* Agence France-Presse
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Published: September 29, 2016 04:00 AM