Arsene Wenger has never been one for sentiment. Take a walk around his mansion in the exclusive greater London suburb of Totteridge, and you may be surprised to see not one of the many medals he has won as a football manager.
Referee: Anthony Taylor
TV: Live on TV3, BBC1
Bet: Arsenal 7/2 Chelsea 3/4 Draw 11/4
“I have no medals at home from anything,” he says. “You come to my home you will be surprised. There is no trophy, no medal, nothing.
“I give them always away. There is always a guy at the club who did not get a medal. A member of staff maybe. I give it to him.
“You are always a medal short and you will always find someone who takes it.”
Tony Adams, the former Arsenal captain, recently claimed Wenger had even thrown the runners-up medal gleaned from the 2001 FA Cup straight into the bin.
“Don’t trust too much what Tony Adams says,” he countered.
Today could realistically mark the Frenchman’s final act in charge at Arsenal. It has been suggested that delivering the trophy at Wembley and becoming the country’s most successful FA Cup manager ever would be a fine way to bow out.
On the other hand, defeat would leave Arsenal both trophyless and out of the Champions League for the first time since he swept into England’s capital in the winter of 1996.
There may be no coming back from that.
Rumours have circulated that he has already told his players of his intention to stay and that a new two-year contract will be signed in the summer, which will include a change in management structure and act as the prelude to a window of heavy spending.
But there remains a nagging feeling that a fortnight in which the club have both missed out on the top four and been beaten by Chelsea in the season’s showpiece final might just be enough to see him off.
Either way, he will not return home on Saturday night, put his keys and phone on the sideboard, and have a wander round the trophy room.
“I’ve got nothing,” he adds. “I am not back looker. I am always forward.
“You would not even guess that I am a football manager. Apart from the fact that a football game is on the television.
“It is not about being separated from football. I am completely in football. I watch the game that is on that night but I don’t look back at what we have won, what we have done or what we have lost.
“Will I live to regret that? Maybe. Maybe one day I will have to look back. If I have health certainly no. It depends on my health. I will not always manage but I will always be involved in the game.”
Today’s clash with Premier League champions Chelsea has come to represent, historically, the sort of game Wenger is built for.
In his 21 years in charge, Wenger has guided his team to seven FA Cup finals and won six of them, matching the number of times today’s opponents Chelsea have managed it in their entire history.
But they have never arrived at this point as such wide betting underdogs. They are as long as 3/1 with some bookmakers, which is a testament, some would say, to how far behind Chelsea they have fallen over the past 12 months.
The west London club are often cited by the ‘Wenger Out Brigade’ as an example of why Arsenal should relieve the Frenchman of his duties.
Chelsea were miserable under Jose Mourinho last term so they got rid of him. The new man, Antonio Conte, won the league — and a possible double — in his first season.
Conte, in that particularly impish manner of his, has described Arsenal as the favourites today. “He can think what he wants,” Wenger added. “If we can justify it during the game it is even better.
“Of course I expect us to win. It’s true that in neutral opinions Chelsea will be favourites.”
In a break from his usual guarded demeanour, Wenger had admitted that the uncertainty surrounding his future had created an “horrendous psychological environment” in which his players had to operate. It was a strange revelation given they had one more crucial game to play.
But this week, he insists, he has not made time to assess the mood in the camp with a huge and potentially career-defining fixture on the horizon.
“I focus on football,” he said. “One of the big problems in the modern society is that the big companies sit there but don’t make the decisions that are good for the company.
“But is it popular or not? I don’t care about that. I just want to always make a decision, is it right or is it wrong, is it good or not? All the rest for me is artificial debate.”
Laurent Koscielny’s rash challenge on Enner Valencia in the season’s final Premier League game earned him a straight red card and a suspension which will keep him out of the final. Fellow defender Gabriel Paulista is also missing with a knee injury while Shkodran Mustafi has been ill this week. There was a further blow yesterday when it emerged goalkeeper Petr Cech will miss out due to injury. Far from ideal for Wenger.
However, he has dealt with worse. “I remember in 2005 we had no players available any more,” he added. “I played with Dennis Bergkamp up front against Manchester United who had Cristian Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes. We won, maybe without deserving it, but we won it.”
Wenger says the decision on his future will finally be made at a board meeting in the next few days. Only then will the world know his decision. And what about the other one?
“Who will get my medal?” he says with a smile. “I have first to earn it.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved