Wenger plans Van Persie talks
Arsene Wenger hopes to tie up the long-term future of Arsenal captain Robin van Persie before the Dutchman heads off to Euro 2012.
Holland striker Van Persie has remained free of injury to plunder 34 goals which have almost single-handedly fired the Gunners back into the top four of the Barclays Premier League, and is set to make his 50th appearance of the season for club and country against Chelsea on Saturday.
The 28-year-old’s current contract expires in the summer of 2013, and there has been speculation the likes of Manchester City, Barcelona, Real Madrid and both Milan clubs are all ready to launch a multi-million auction for his services, with wages on offer of around £200,000-per-week.
Van Persie is happy to leave talks until the end of the season.
However, Wenger has now revealed he wants a resolution before his captain went to join up with the Netherlands squad at a training camp in Switzerland on May 17 – just 72 hours after the final Premier League game at West Brom.
Asked about Van Persie’s contract situation, Wenger said: "That will be sorted at the end of the season."
Pressed on whether the resolution would be before the European Championships, Wenger replied: "Yes."
Van Persie was pictured at Barcelona’s team hotel in London ahead of their midweek Champions League game against Chelsea.
Wenger, though, maintained there was nothing untoward in that.
"I am not concerned," the Arsenal manager said. "After the game you can go to have dinner. He has got friends there. [Ibrahim] Affelay, [Cesc] Fabregas. Why shouldn’t he?"
Van Persie is expected to be crowned PFA Player of the Year at a gala dinner on Sunday night, which could well be followed up by the prestigious Football Writers’ Association accolade.
Wenger is in no doubt about the impact of his captain on the Gunners campaign, which at one stage looked very much in crisis.
While Van Persie has netted just once in his last six Arsenal appearances, Wenger rejected suggestions the Dutchman was burnt out.
"When you play 50 games at that level you suffer a little bit," he said.
"It is beyond expectation and for a striker it is massive.
"Physically, Robin is good. He has a very healthy life very focused on football – he takes care of everything. That is why he manages to do that."
Although Arsenal remain in the driving seat to secure third place and with it automatic qualification for the Champions League again next season, there remains the possibility the side which eventually comes fourth could miss out on the elite club competition.
Should Chelsea, who are currently sixth, fail to finish in the top four, but go on to win the Champions League final in Munich, then they would take the place in next season’s competition and one of their rivals drop down in the Europa League.
The rule was introduced to avoid a repeat of when Liverpool won the competition in 2005, but had initially been unable to defend their title the following season before being allowed to enter the qualifying rounds.
Asked his feelings on that scenario should Arsenal face it, Wenger said: "We would not be happy, but it is the rules and we have to accept it.
"The Champions League winners should have the right to defend the trophy. That it takes the fourth place is unfortunate. Ideally, you would like to combine the two.
"The team who finish fourth have fought the whole season and cannot get into the Champions League."
Wenger masterminded a 2-1 home win over Barcelona in the Champions League last season, only to go out following a controversial defeat at the Nou Camp in the second leg.
The Gunners boss believes Roberto di Matteo’s men will face a stern test to get another positive result in Spain, but one they could yet come through.
"On the day, Chelsea had a gameplan which worked a little bit, maybe they were lucky because Barcelona hit the post, but still I feel Chelsea played well the system they wanted to play," he said.
"They had a great performance on the day. With what they wanted to do, and [Didier] Drogba did the rest."
Wenger added: "[Can they do it again?] Why not? They will not have much choice to play differently.
"Chelsea have a lot of experience in their side and they know how to be on the pitch."