London Colney (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Arsene Wenger insisted he was unconcerned by the size of recent Arsenal home crowds as he admitted “you earn from your performances what you have and what you get”.
The Gunners are sixth in the Premier League table, a huge 13 points adrift of the fourth and last automatic European Champions League place on offer to English clubs.
Arsenal, however, could still qualify for next season’s edition of the elite tournament if they win the second-tier Europa League.
Thursday sees the north London club at home to CSKA Moscow in the first leg of a Europa League quarter-final.
Concerns remain, though, as to whether they will be roared on by a capacity crowd of some 60,000.
Many Gunners fans depair of the club’s prospects under the long-serving Wenger, who has been Arsenal’s manager since September 1996.
Despite not having won the Premier League title since 2004 and failing to qualify for this season’s Champions League, veteran French boss Wenger was still given a new two-year deal last season.
Thousands of empty seats have been a feature of Arsenal home games during the current campaign.
There was some sympathy when club officials cited snow as the reason behind a poor attendance for last month’s league game against champions-elect Manchester City — who only days earlier had beaten the Gunners 3-0 in the League Cup final at Wembley.
– ‘Nothing is granted’ –
Arsenal though invited ridicule by blaming low crowds for recent games against Watford and Stoke on Mother’s Day and Easter respectively.
“I think the crowd, when something is at stake, is always there and behind us,” Wenger said Wednesday.
“Let’s not go overboard. We played the final at Wembley and it was half full will Arsenal people and half full with City people, so I don’t think Arsenal has a problem with its support.
“It’s just that Arsenal fans are disappointed that we don’t go for anything strong in the Premier League and that is what happens.”
The 68-year-old added: “Nothing is granted in this job. You earn from your performances what you have and what you get.
“I have been here over 20 years –- one thing you cannot complain about is the support.
“The target for us is not to count the fans in the stand. The target for us is to focus on our performance and win the game and accept the public judgement.”
However, he also said: “I’m always concerned when our stadium is not completely full but I don’t think that will be a problem tomorrow (Thursday).
“For us tomorrow it’s about our performance and our crowd will be behind us.”
The Europa League, formerly the UEFA Cup. has often been seen as a ‘poor relation’ compared to the Champions League.
Nevertheless, Wenger said: “I believe the level of the Europa League has gone up.
“If you look at the teams who were involved and even some teams who went out like Dortmund, it is more difficult than ever before — especially as there is more focus on it as well since you had a place for the Champions League.”
Wenger has yet to win a major European trophy with Arsenal, although they were beaten on penalties in the 2000 UEFA Cup final and lost to Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final.
Asked what it would mean to win the Europa League, he said: “We are in the quarter-final, let’s be realistic, it is a long way to go.”
As for when he’d “start to smell the trophy”, a smiling Wenger replied: “When you are 3-0 up in the final and there are five minutes to go.”