London: Arsene Wenger is preparing to enter an unprecedented third decade as Arsenal manager after agreeing a new three-year contract that will commit him to the club until 2017.
Worth £7.5 million a year, the contract had been offered to Wenger regardless of whether Arsenal won the FA Cup but the 64-year-old has now pledged to follow up his verbal agreement by putting pen to paper before he travels to the World Cup. A formal announcement is likely this week, potentially Wednesday or Thursday.
Arsenal’s dramatic 3-2 win against Hull City on Saturday was a record-equalling fifth FA Cup triumph for Wenger but, most significantly, was also the club’s first trophy since they moved from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium. Asked if he would sign a new contract before the World Cup, Wenger said: “Yes, because I go to Brazil on June 10.”
The timeframe of the deal is especially intriguing. Although three years has been Wenger’s usual length of contract — and that offer has been on the table since the autumn — he has never previously allowed an existing deal to completely run down.
There was a theory that Wenger would leave had he not won the FA Cup — something he denies — or would at least have preferred either a one-year rolling deal or a shorter two-year arrangement.
Wenger will turn 65 later this year, meaning he will be 67 by the time this next contract expires. Having joined Arsenal in 1996, it would also take his total tenure at the club beyond 20 years. Wenger’s decision reflects his belief that the core of this current squad is again ready to seriously compete to win the Premier League or Champions League.
Unlike previous transfer windows, the majority of the squad are on long-term contracts and Wenger will also be entrusted this summer with a £100 million transfer budget. The club’s increased spending power is largely a consequence of new commercial deals with kit manufacturer Puma and sponsors Emirates.
A striker and a central midfielder are the immediate priorities. In the holding midfield position, Wenger has made enquiries over Lars Bender and Javi Martinez while vice-captain Mikel Arteta, who has fulfilled that role over the past three years, will have talks about his future this summer. His contract expires in 2015 and he would like more than the usual one-year extension for outfield players over the age of 30.
In attack, Wenger is monitoring the respective situations of Karim Benzema and Mario Mandzukic at Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, although has also been impressed by the progress at Swansea of Wilfried Bony.
Bacary Sagna and Lukasz Fabianski, however, are now likely to leave after starting Saturday’s FA Cup final but refusing the offer of new contracts. Arsenal and Sagna will hold further talks this week but, amid interest from both Manchester City and Manchester United, the club’s most experienced current player is likely to depart.