London – Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger claims to care only about the “drug” of victory despite preparing to celebrate his 1 000th game in charge against Premier League leaders Chelsea on Saturday.
Wenger was appointed Arsenal manager in 1996 and his milestone achievement will dominate the build-up to the meeting between the London rivals at Stamford Bridge.
But the Frenchman would be the first to point out that the outcome of the game involving sides currently lying first and third in the table is more significant than his anniversary.
Should Wenger engineer Arsenal's first victory over Chelsea in six attempts, his team will move to within one point of Jose Mourinho's men with a game in hand.
A Chelsea victory, on the other hand, would allow Mourinho's side to repair some of the damage inflicted by their unexpected defeat at Aston Villa last weekend.
Wenger has declared that with the tightest title race in years hanging in the balance, his focus is trained on the game ahead.
And the fact that Mourinho described Wenger as a “specialist in failure” earlier this season will only provide the Frenchman with an added incentive.
“It looks to me like I started yesterday. I can't believe it is such a long time,” Wenger told the Arsenal website.
“Why? Because you're always focused on looking forward to the next game and when you look back you think, 'I made quite a distance there.'
“Despite that, your only interest is the next game. Our drug is the next game, the hope for the next game, the desire to win the next one.”
Wenger has endured an uncomfortable trophy drought since Arsenal last lifted silverware after beating Manchester United in the 2005
FA Cup final.
The 64-year-old regularly asserts that the Gunners have missed out because of a financial imbalance with their biggest rivals.
But he believes that the club are now able to compete for the very best players, increasing their capacity to challenge for the championship.
“When I one day look back, I will certainly be very proud of what I have done (since 2005),” he said.
“This was a trophyless period, but a much more difficult and sensitive period, where it needed much more commitment and strength than in the first part of my stay here.
“I went for a challenge that I knew would be difficult because we had to fight with clubs who lose £150 million ($249 million, 179 million euros) per year and we had to make £30 million (to finance payments for the Emirates Stadium).
“On top of that, we had to stand up with people telling us we had to beat them.”
He added: “I accepted to stay here a long time knowing that we had little chance to win the Premier League, but I think now we are in a position again where we can fight with other clubs to sign big players.
“I think we can be proud of the consistency of our achievement at the club.”
Chelsea's emergence during Mourinho's first spell at Stamford Bridge contributed to the end of Wenger's era of success at Arsenal and the two managers have maintained a fractious relationship over the last 10 years.
Mourinho and his side will be equally keen to strengthen their own position after the costly visit to Villa Park.
Brazilian pair Willian and Ramires will both be missing against the Gunners after being sent off last weekend, while Mourinho faces punishment from the Football Association after being sent to the stands.
Chelsea bounced back with a mid-week win over Galatasaray that took them into the Champions League quarter-finals.
Winger Eden Hazard said: “The Champions League and the Premier League are both magnificent competitions.
“The Champions League is rare because you play less often, but the Premier League is so important to us and we know how important it is for the fans, too.” – Sapa-AFP