(Reuters) – Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger adopted a fresh approach on Friday to the persistent questions over his future, swapping tetchiness for humour as he stressed he was committed to getting the best out of his beleaguered side.
The Frenchman has endured a series of back-page headlines to forget this week after a 3-1 home defeat by Bayern Munich in their Champions League last-16 first leg followed a humiliating 1-0 loss to second-tier Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup.
He snapped his way through a news conference on Monday after what he said was incorrect information that he had agreed a two-year contract extension but on Friday was in a calmer mood when asked whether he had been unfairly scrutinised this week.
"It’s not down to me to judge, my responsibility is to keep the guidelines and to guide the team and the club into what I think is right," he told a news conference.
"I will not come out with my feelings because that is not my job. I feel what is important for me is to focus on the next game and try to give my best like all the players."
Demonstrating he was still as motivated as ever after being in the job since 1996, he issued a challenge to one reporter in jest.
"I do think that spark is nothing to do with the length of your life. It’s just that’s how you are. You are motivated by how much you want to win and how much you win," he said.
"If I go out now and play with you one against one you will see that I will beat you and at least if I don’t manage to beat you I will want to beat you so that will not change as long as I can move.
"We can organise that if you want," he added before the reporter told him his knee was not what it used to be.
"Don’t look for excuses before the game," he grinned.
While he might have made time for jokes, his team’s season has become no laughing matter.
Any realistic chances of silverware have vanished, leaving the north London club trophyless for an eighth season, and the only sliver of redemption would be finishing in the top four of the Premier League to secure a Champions League berth.
Sitting fifth with 44 points from 26 games, four behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur and a further point away from third-placed Chelsea with Everton, in sixth, breathing down their necks, Arsenal cannot afford any more slip-ups.
They host relegation candidates Aston Villa on Saturday (1500 GMT) seeking to avoid a third successive home defeat.
"We are in a position where we cannot afford to drop points. We will go into the game with a huge desire to get out the disappointments we have had," Wenger said.
"Apart from Manchester United, for all the other positions, I feel it’s very open. It’s just down to us now to continue to be consistent like we have been. We have to focus on continuing to get the points."
Asked if he had felt like quitting this week, Wenger was emphatic.
"Never, not one second," he said.
"I have a contract until the end of 2014 and at the moment we are on a short-term plan. I have been here for a long time and have to consider what I want to do. That will be decided in 2014, not before."
(Reporting by Sonia Oxley; Editing by Alison Wildey)
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