Wenger focused on the future

LONDON - The past is immaterial to Arsene Wenger with Arsenal's longest-serving manager happier to concentrate on the next match rather than reflect upon past glories as he marks 13 years in charge of the London club.

Wenger began his reign as Arsenal manager with a win at Blackburn Rovers in October 1996 and his team face the same opponents at home on Sunday.

"You know, that first game, it was quite funny because it was my first experience," Arsenal's most successful manager, told reporters on Friday.

"We started well at Blackburn and now Sunday is a good opportunity to continue our good run, to come back in the league because we have a game in hand.

"We have played away four times at difficult places and we are in a strong position now, so let's take advantage of that... That is all much more important than history."

Arsenal are sixth in the Premier League six points behind leaders Manchester United and second-placed Chelsea, who have both played a match more.

In Wenger's first selection, he picked nine Englishman, a Welshman and a Frenchman and they won 2-0.

When his current squad beat Olympiakos last Tuesday, in a Champions League group game, only one of his 18 was an Englishman.

Asked to compare that team, with his modern Arsenal side, Wenger was reluctant.

"It is difficult. You can never compare. It was for sure an outstanding team if you look at the quality of the players, but today it is different.

"I believe this team was typically made with an English backbone of players. Now we have more of an international team. That is the evolution which football has done in the last 10 years."

Originally regarded as scholarly and dubbed 'the professor' for his intellectual approach, Wenger, 60 later this month, has mellowed.

"I see the manager as someone who can have great influence on a club," he explained. "On the results of the team, of course, and on the structure of the club, but also a long-term influence in the creation of the style of the team and the football culture of the club and the lives of the players. It is not just about results..."

Wenger said he had regrets, notably a frustrating failure, so far, to win the European Cup.

"Yes that is one thing," the Frenchman said. "And it is a big ambition. But there is a consideration. When I came here Arsenal was not even seeded as one of the big clubs in Europe, but now we are in the top eight.

"We have gone close, very close. We are on a high competitive level now with the best clubs in Europe and we just need to go one step further."