Football

Wenger laments 'horrendous atmosphere'

Arsenal boss says speculation over his future placed too much pressure on his players

Arsene Wenger admits doubts surrounding his future have contributed to an "absolutely horrendous" environment at Arsenal after they failed to qualify for the Champions League.

Arsenal defeated Everton 3-1 on Sunday, thanks to goals from Hector Bellerin, Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey, but it was enough to finish only fifth as Manchester City thrashed Watford and Liverpool beat Middlesbrough to take third and fourth spot respectively.

Wenger has refused to confirm he will stay on as manager next season and, after missing out on the Premier League's top four for the first time since 1996, the Frenchman said the uncertainty had not helped.

"Overall, I believe that we played since January in a very difficult environment for different reasons," Wenger said.

"Some obviously that you know about, and it is very difficult for the group of players to cope with that.

"Some other reasons where we will talk about another day.

"But the psychological environment for the players was absolutely horrendous.

"I am very proud of what they have done, the way they responded and finished the season.

"Certainly, my personal situation has contributed to that.

"But they should not question it, I am professional, as long as I am somewhere, I do my job until the last day.

"You could not question my love or my loyalty to this club, because I said 'no' to every club in the world to stay here with very restricted finances for years.

"So I don't understand really why the question over that commitment."

EUROPA NEXT

Finishing fifth means Arsenal will play in the Europa League for the first time next season and missing out on Europe's premier tournament may not sit well with their star players.

The future of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Oezil, in particular, remains uncertain and Wenger lamented losing out to Liverpool by just a single point.

"It's very sad because for 20 years we were in it, and it is the first year we will not be in it," Wenger said.

Wenger chose not to join his players on the traditional end-of-season lap of honour after the victory over Everton, but it was majority owner Stan Kroenke who took the brunt of the criticism from the fans.

Minority owner Alisher Usmanov has made a £1-billion (S$1.8b) bid to take control of the club and supporters chanted for Kroenke to leave as their frustration mounted in the second half.

"I respect Stan Kroenke a lot. He is not at fault if we did not reach the Champions League tonight," Wenger said.

"It is the technical department who is responsible for that. I don't see what he has to do with that."

Defender Gabriel Paulista had to be stretchered out after suffering a knee injury and Wenger admitted his chance of playing in the FA Cup final against Chelsea on Sunday morning (Singapore time) looks dim.

Sanchez also limped off clutching his thigh while Laurent Koscielny, who was sent off for a lunge on Enner Valencia, will miss the Wembley showdown through suspension.

Meanwhile, unsettled Everton midfielder Ross Barkley's future with the club was supposed to be decided yesterday, manager Ronald Koeman said, after his side's loss to Arsenal.

Barkley began on the bench but came on for what could be his last appearance for the club having failed to agree a new contract at Goodison Park despite an offer on the table.

"I will speak to the board tomorrow and we will make a statement," said Koeman.

Koeman hardly offered a ringing endorsement of the England international when he spoke to the BBC.

"He was one of the players who didn't show productivity today," said the Dutchman, whose side finished seventh in the table after losing three of their last four games.

"Overall, it's not about one player, but I understand why you asked about him.

"That's what we need to change.

"We need to find players with more productivity." - WIRE SERVICES

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