Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke signaled a desire to convince Arsene Wenger to stay on as manager by telling The Associated Press on Monday that the club remains "very high" on the Frenchman and he would be "very hard" to replace.
Wenger this month celebrated 20 years in charge of Arsenal and has offered no indication whether he wants to sign a new deal, with his current contract running to the end of the season
The 67-year-old Frenchman became the Premier League's longest serving manager when Alex Ferguson retired from Manchester United in 2013. United is now on its third manager in three years and has not competed for the Premier League title since Ferguson's departure.
In a rare interview about Arsenal, Kroenke noted the tricky post-Ferguson succession at United while discussing the challenge of eventually replacing Wenger.
"You see it (at United)," Kroenke told the AP after Arsenal's annual general meeting. "It's very hard. He's a great manager."
Wenger signed his last three-year contract extension in 2014.
"We will sit down and discuss the future at the appropriate time," Arsenal chairman Chips Keswick told shareholders at a meeting attended by Wenger.
Although Wenger has won the Premier League three times, the last success came in 2004 — a drought which frustrates fans.
"He's been a wonderful influence on the club," Kroenke said. "We are all very high on Arsene. We are (joint) top of the table right now."
Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool are only separated on goal difference at the summit. Despite Wenger only winning the FA Cup twice since the 2004-05 season, Arsenal is in the lucrative Champions League for the 19th successive year thanks to its runner-up finish last season. Wenger is yet to win European football's top prize.
"I know a number of (sports team) owners that are very successful that say the same thing — the hardest thing to do is be consistently competitive at the top of the league," said Kroenke, who also owns the NFL's Los Angeles Rams. "Arsene has always done that and Arsenal has always been in that position. We have always been competitive.
"We may not always win the things we want to win. We are very focused on winning for sure the league. Arsene's been consistently at the top and I will tell you — it's very, very hard to do if you look around sports."
Earlier, Wenger did not address his future in what could be his final speech to shareholders if he doesn't extend his Arsenal contract.
"I would like to apologize for every minute I made you suffer in these 20 years," Wenger quipped. "But you don't look too bad for people who have suffered for 20 years.
"I am sorry for the boy who was born 20 years ago and has only known one manager. I would like to reassure him that when he is 40 he will know a few more."
Wenger assured shareholders that Arsenal is in a "much more competitive position to fight for the championship than five or six years ago."
Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports