LONDON (Reuters) - There were mixed emotions for those Arsenal supporters who want a change of manager after 21 years when Arsene Wenger led the London club to his eighth FA Cup final on Sunday.
Bookmakers immediately shortened the odds on the Frenchman signing a new contract, which had been even money before the 2-1 semi-final victory over Manchester City after extra time.
The win offered Wenger a chance to become the most successful FA Cup manager by lifting the trophy for a record seventh time in the final against Chelsea on May 27.
Winning the competition in 2014 and 2015 after a long drought and sneaking into second place in the Premier League last season to earn Champions League qualification for the 19th year in succession enabled Wenger to claim he was still the best man for a job he has held since 1996.
Arsenal have not won the Premier League since 2004, however, and pressure for change has intensified recently with a series of defeats, including the humiliating 10-2 aggregate loss to Bayern Munich that brought the habitual exit from Europe at the first knockout stage.
Having never finished lower than fourth under Wenger, Arsenal have dropped to seventh place, seven points below fourth-placed City, and they look destined to miss out on Europe’s premier competition.
There has been criticism of the manager’s recruitment and his motivational ability, which is why he made a point of praising the team’s mentality after Sunday’s victory.
“We gave a good answer to people who questioned that (spirit),” he said.
“The players have shown great togetherness.”
He could also point to the tactical switch to a three-man defence for the first time in some 20 years that has helped produce two successive wins.
City were restricted to three shots on target, while Arsenal’s equaliser came from a cross by one wing back -- man of the match Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain -- to the other, Nacho Monreal.
As expected, Wenger was not prepared to confirm the increasing speculation that he will now sign a new two-year contract.
His final words in one television interview may, however, have been significant: “People cannot question my loyalty and commitment to the club.”
Reporting by Steve Tongue; Editing by Ken Ferris