Champs Lge crucial for RVP stay
Arsene Wenger has predicted a quiet summer of transfer activity at Arsenal, although he admits securing Champions League football might be the decisive factor in whether Robin van Persie stays at the club next season.
Wenger is beginning to experience déjà vu, with Van Persie heading into the final year of his contract and European giants circling. It was a similar scenario when Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri left last year, although the Arsenal boss rejected the suggestion that he had not learnt his lesson.
"Learn the lesson from what?" Wenger was quoted as saying in the Sun. "You forget that I'm quite keen one day to speak about that, to make you change your mind, that we didn't make big mistakes, that we did quite well. But the difference is that we do not master necessarily always the pace of things."
Wenger was alluding to the fact that he lost Fabregas and Nasri on the cusp of the new season, leaving him little time to find adequate replacements. As a result, the Gunners made a terrible start to the campaign, including an 8-2 loss to Manchester United.
"You need to be three. And three to agree. Sometimes, the tactic of the opponent is linked to wait by thinking they get you by buying time. So if you don't give in, you will have to take time, especially when you are linked with different championships like Spain who start end of August, beginning of September. They have time."
The potential loss of Van Persie, scorer of 30 league goals this season, could well rest on the outcome of the final day of the Premier League season, which could see Arsenal finish third, fourth or fifth. It is the latter that Wenger desperately wants to avoid, admitting negotiations with his star striker become vastly more difficult if they are not dining at Europe's top table.
"On my side I am inclined to think 'yes', but you should ask him. I don't know whether it will have an influence on him," Wenger said of the importance of Champions League football.
Regardless of the skipper's future, Wenger does not expect to add too many names to the already-secured purchase of Lukas Podolski this summer. Despite boasting a defence that has conceded 20 more goals than Manchester City this season, and a squad that still misses the influence of Fabregas and Nasri, Wenger insists the return from injury of Jack Wilshere will be like getting a new signing.
"Another way to strengthen for us is to get Wilshere and [Abou] Diaby, who didn't play at all the whole season," Wenger said. "You look at the number of players - we have 34 players when they all come back. That means you have to pay nine not to play."
Asked about the prospect of playing in the Europa League next term, Wenger refused to shoot down the competition, saying: "You play where you have to and it's better to play there than not at all.
"When you play Thursday night and Sunday it's exactly the same as Wednesday night and Saturday. But if you ask me if we prefer the Europa League or Champions League then you are completely right, we want to be in the Champions League, we don't want to be in the Europa League."
Wenger feels the way his squad responded through tough times is testament to their character.
"It will be a great achievement if we manage to do it. I believe it would be reward for a group which has exceptional strength,'' Wenger added. "They have come through some difficult times, always recovered and always battled. Therefore I will be extremely delighted when we do it.
"There is even more uncertainty because fourth place is not this time necessarily in the Champions League. Let's make sure we finish third and win our game - that is the only answer we can give. To do that of course you need a full, committed performance from everybody.
"On that front I am quite sure we will get that from our players and then we will have a very good chance to do it.''
Wenger has already moved to strengthen his squad for next season, with the £10 million signing of Cologne striker Lukas Podolski. Wenger, though, does not feel it will be a summer of much major transfer activity.
"Our job will be focused on inside [matters] now we have Podolski. That means to get Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby back in a healthy situation and then I believe we have quite a big squad,'' Wenger said.
"It will be [our intention] to trim a little bit and if possible add one or two players.''
England winger Theo Walcott could return to action at The Hawthorns in front of new national team boss Roy Hodgson if he shakes off a hamstring problem, while goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny is expected to feature despite a troublesome back.