Arsène Wenger mixed passion and defiance with the angry claim that he and Arsenal are being wilfully undermined by sinister external forces at an extraordinary press conference on the eve of Tuesday's Champions League last 16 first-leg showdown against Bayern Munich.
The Arsenal manager said:
• He is the victim of an incorrect story that was "targeted to hurt"
• The club are "hunted" by the media
• He deserves better, on a moral level, because he has never "taken money or things like that"
• People will miss him when he is gone
• Arsenal still have a "fantastic opportunity" to win the Champions League.
Wenger launched into the offensive after he saw the story on a Monday morning newspaper's back page claiming that Arsenal are ready to offer him an extension to his contract that expires in the summer of 2014.
He sniped at print and broadcast journalists as he interpreted an ulterior motive, which he felt was to portray him and the club in a bad light so shortly after Saturday's FA Cup loss at home to Blackburn Rovers, which has heightened still further the importance of the Bayern tie. The Champions League now stands as Arsenal's last chance to end an eight-year run without a trophy.
"Why does it just come out when we lose a big game?" Wenger said. "In your opinion? You think I am so naive that I don't see what is behind that? You think I am a complete idiot?
"The lie is targeted to hurt. It's easy to say people are not happy and, on top of that, to say he's extending the contract. That's what I mean. I've worked here for 16 years and when I say I deserve more credit, that's not about respect and everybody saying: 'He's doing well.' It is morally. I think that's right.
"You can criticise me and say I'm a bad manager. I'd never come back to you on that. But I think when you work like that ... you will never find any story behind me that I've taken money anywhere, or things like that. So I think, morally, that is wrong. What I don't accept is lies and when the target behind it is to manipulate people."
It was put to Wenger that he might have misread the situation, that the story did not appear to have been overly negative and, certainly, not one to motivate such an uncharacteristic response.
"I am not a conspiracy theorist," he said. "I am 30 years in this job and if I was paranoid, you would know it already. I just think that when I worked for 16 years in the country, I expect a certain respect. This kind of thing that is a bit manipulative ... and then, when they are wrong, I don't accept it."
Wenger offered the impression of a man under siege in light of the criticism of the 1-0 defeat by Blackburn, which was the first time his team had lost to lower-league opposition at home. They were also eliminated from the Capital One Cup at League Two Bradford this season, which again sparked a raft of uncomfortable questions.
"What I find absolutely unbelievable is that when it happens to me, it is a complete storm. You know why? Because in 16 years, it never happened," Wenger said of the Blackburn loss. "We fight the whole season against everybody hunting here [in press conferences] ... ' The players are not good enough, buy players' and all that, but one day you will realise that this team has fantastic qualities."
He added: "I'm more worried about the players. I will go into the Champions League tomorrow night in a difficult situation. On top of that, they have to fight against everybody and I want to protect the players to make sure they go into the game in good conditions."
Wenger admitted he had "unfinished business" in the Champions League, a tournament he has never won. "If I say to you we will win it this season, you will laugh at me because we just lost against Blackburn," he said. "But it can happen. We have a fantastic opportunity because I have a strong team."
Wenger found an ally in his Bayern counterpart Jupp Heynckes, who described him as a "great coach" with a "dynamic" team. "You have to take into consideration that Arsenal are competing with Chelsea, United, City. Over the years they have been selling their best players and these other teams get in top world stars, so I don't think it is fair to blame Wenger for that," Heynckes said. "Wenger is a great coach. You can see his team has a very great dynamic about it. Take away the game against Blackburn and they are fifth in the league and have played a lot of positive football in the Champions League."
Wenger retains the full support of Arsenal's board and has always honoured his contracts. "I am sure you would miss me when I am gone," the Frenchman said.
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