Wenger's Arsenal enter last-chance saloon

Tom WILLIAMS
Arsenal's French manager Arsene Wenger looks on ahead of the English Premier League football match against Southampton May 10, 2017

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger hopes the thorny issue of his future will not prove a distraction when his side attempt to squeeze into the Champions League against Everton on Sunday.

Wenger's future remains unresolved and he said on Friday he expects a decision to be announced after a board meeting that will take place in the days following the FA Cup final against Chelsea on May 27.

Wenger has come under fire from an increasingly vocal number of Arsenal fans, but with the team's top-four hopes in the balance, he says his personal circumstances should be put to one side.

"I think what is the most important for us is to win the football game we play on Sunday," he said.

"After that, what happens to me is less important. I'm here to serve the club and the best way to do that is to win the next game."

Wenger's hand has been weakened by the fact Arsenal stand to miss out on a place in the Champions League for the first time in 20 seasons.

Despite an upturn in form that has seen them win six of their last seven league games, they continue to reside outside the top four, a point behind fourth-place Liverpool and three points below third-place Manchester City.

To finish in the top four, they must either better Liverpool's result at home to relegated Middlesbrough or win and hope City lose at Watford by a margin that enables a five-goal swing in goal difference.

Should Arsenal draw and Liverpool lose by two goals, the two teams would finish the season with identical records, necessitating a play-off match to separate them.

Like Everton, who are guaranteed to finish seventh, neither Middlesbrough nor Watford have anything to play for, but Wenger hopes all three teams will put up resistance regardless.

"What you want is that they have a go and they fight. I think, traditionally in England, you have that," he said.

"Hopefully that will be the case. Everybody will be under scrutiny so you just want the teams like Everton to fight against us, Middlesbrough will fight against Liverpool, Watford will fight against City.

"If you want to be the best league in the world, you should not even question that."

- Golden Boot -

Arsenal forward Alexis Sanchez and Everton striker Romelu Lukaku both had very realistic designs on the Golden Boot at the start of the week.

But following Harry Kane's quadruple at Leicester City on Thursday, which took his tally for the campaign to 26 goals, they now trail the Tottenham Hotspur striker by three and two goals respectively.

Both Lukaku and midfielder Ross Barkley could be making farewell appearances for Everton, who are bidding to complete their first league double over Arsenal since the 1985-86 campaign.

Lukaku has publicly rejected a new contract offer and Barkley is stalling over a deal he has been offered.

Everton manager Ronald Koeman has enjoyed four victories over Arsenal since moving to England with Southampton in 2014, losing only once in six encounters, and he hopes his good run will continue.

"We approach this game like we do always," said the Dutchman. "We want to finish strongly.

"Arsenal have a great team, some really good individual quality, but we can beat them, as we showed at home. I have a good record as a manager against Arsenal and let's hope that we keep that."

Koeman has no new injuries worries, but remains without Maarten Stekelenburg (groin), Seamus Coleman (broken leg), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), James McCarthy (hamstring), Aaron Lennon (stress-related illness) and Yannick Bolasie (knee).

Aaron Ramsey has been passed fit for Arsenal despite having limped off with a thigh strain during Tuesday's 2-0 home win over Sunderland.

But Laurent Koscielny is doubtful with a calf problem and with the FA Cup final looming, the French centre-back may be rested.