Wenger dogged by questions over Van Persie
The name 'Robin van Persie' has been buzzing around Arsene Wenger's ears like a persistent bee and there was no escaping it again yesterday as the Arsenal manager arrived in town, try as he might to swat the pesky thing away.
The Frenchman was greeted by a question about his Dutch striker, faced another in the middle of the press conference held to promote today's clash against Kitchee at Hong Kong Stadium, and then, with a furrowed brow and shrug, waved away a final inquisition as the gathering was called to a close.
Wenger has been around the game long enough to know the off-season English Premier League rumour mill will continue to churn, whether he wants it or not.
No, he said, he had nothing more to add to the topic. Van Persie is still an Arsenal player. And then attention was turned to today's sold-out encounter with Hong Kong's treble winners, the last of a three-match Asian tour that has already seen the Gunners win 2-0 against a Malaysian XI and lose 2-0 to Premier League champions Manchester City in Beijing.
'It's a fantastic achievement,' Wenger said of Kitchee's past season. 'No matter where you play, it is difficult to win, so this is very special. We are facing the last game of our tour and the quality of our games has been good. They have been tougher than we expected.
'The first game in Malaysia was tough and it is always tough when we face Manchester City. But we are here to give a good performance, to give good resistance to Kitchee, and to keep our fans happy.'
The Gunners were written off after a sluggish start to the last league season but stormed home with a win in the last match to grab the third and final Champions League spot - something Wenger-led teams have now done for an astonishing 15 straight seasons.
That's how long, too, since Arsenal last played in Hong Kong and Wenger said he was happy to renew acquaintances with a squad that might be without that man (whisper it) Van Persie and new signings Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud, but includes a fit-again Abou Diaby and young guns such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
'Every day we have to come out with the feeling that we have moved forward,' said Wenger. 'So [this game] is another step for us where we are going to say we are getting better and better in some departments of our game. That is what we focus on.'
Meanwhile, Kitchee coach Josep Gombau has made no secret of the fact he has built his squad's success around Wenger's soccer philosophy - and the style of play the Arsenal manager demands from his squad.
'His teams play beautiful football and that is one thing we are trying to do here,' said Gombau, who guided his side to a historic league, League Cup and FA Cup treble last season.
'They keep the ball and we are trying to play that same style. For the knowledge of the players, the game will be very important - they can learn from the very best there is.'
The marquee match against the Gunners caps a stellar 12 months that also saw Gombau named best coach in the local league, while fullback Lo Kwan-yee was crowned Hong Kong Player of the Year. But the Spaniard said he had made sure his squad was firmly focused on what was ahead, not behind.
'Last season was just fantastic, the most important year the club have had,' Gombau said. 'It's now important that we do the same again, which will be even more difficult. It's just important that the players keep up their intensity and their desire to win. Once you win, you can't relax. That's what makes champions.'