Arsene Wenger: Arsenal fans shouldn't join in Leicester boycott
LONDON -- Arsene Wenger hopes fans will not boycott the first five minutes of Arsenal's crucial game against Premier League leaders Leicester on Sunday, saying "football is a moment of happiness, so don't miss it."
Leicester's travelling away supporters are planning to wait until five minutes after kick-off before taking their seats at the Emirates Stadium to protest a decision to move the game at short notice from Saturday afternoon to noon on Sunday at the request of TV broadcasters.
That caused havoc for many fans who had already booked their train and hotel tickets, and comes with supporters' groups across the country already angry about escalating ticket prices.
A Leicester supporters' group are urging Arsenal fans to join in their boycott, but Wenger says he hopes that they do not listen.
"You want everybody there when the game starts," he told a news conference. "For me the game is a joy and everybody has to be part of it. You can protest before and after, but during the game you want everybody to be there. Football is a moment of happiness in your life, so don't miss it."
Liverpool fans staged a walkout at Anfield in the 77th minute of their Premier League game against Sunderland last weekend to protest a hike in the most expensive ticket prices to £77 -- a plan that the club later went back on.
Liverpool led 2-0 when fans walked out, before Sunderland came back to draw 2-2. Wenger, however, does not believe empty seats would have an impact on the players' mentality.
"I don't think so, I wouldn't like to use that as an excuse," he said. "The players, once they are on the pitch, they are focused on their jobs. You do not focus too much on what is happening in the stands."
Arsenal fans were also in uproar last week when the club announced a surcharge on season ticket holders who attend the upcoming Champions League against Barcelona.
While the club argued that was part of a long-standing ticket policy, they scrapped the surcharge a day later following fan pressure.
Asked about ticket prices in general, Wenger said it was a "complicated" issue and added he could understand the underlying fan sentiment.
However, he said Arsenal's prices were largely in line with other London clubs and that it was unfair to compare them to foreign sides like Bayern Munich, whose prices are much lower.
"I don't think we are on the same level ground with the foreign clubs," he said. "For example, Bayern Munich paid €1 for their ground, we paid £128 million for our ground. In France they pay nothing at all for their stadium, they pay nothing for the maintenance. We pay for absolutely every single thing ourselves, so we have to also generate more income."
The Frenchman also reiterated that the added revenue Premier League clubs will get from a new TV deal will go towards increased transfer fees and player wages.
But he said: "After that you want the ticket prices to be as comfortable as possible for our fans. Where is the right level? I'm not [sure] ... You want people who live around the stadium to be capable to go and watch the games. Because they are fans, basically because they were born there."
Wenger also said he could understand a call for lower ticket prices for away fans, and said Arsenal are examining what can be done about the issue.
"You have to find a compromise where everybody is happy," he said. "The away fans need to be there. We do our absolute maximum to help the away fans to be there. We have specialised people who look at it, and we want the away fans to attend our games, of course."
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.