Rafa Benitez responds to speculation linking him with the Arsenal job

Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez.
Newcastle United manager Rafael Benitez.

Rafa Benitez has refused to discuss speculation linking him with the Arsenal job ahead of Newcastle United’s visit to Carrow Road.

Benitez is reportedly on a four-man managerial shortlist drawn up by Arsenal amid a claim from Ian Wright that Arsene Wenger could step down at the end of the season.

Wenger, however, indicated that he was not yet ready to retire after his team’s weekend win Hull City.

“I appreciate that you want me to rest, but I’m not ready for that,” said Wenger.

Benitez – whose Championship-leading side take on Norwich City tonight – signed a three-year contract at Newcastle last summer in the wake of the club’s relegation from the Premier League.

But his longer-term future at St James’s Park was thrown into doubt by the club’s failure to strengthen in last month’s transfer window.

The 56-year-old, “disappointed” that United failed to sign any of his targets, will seek talks with owner Mike Ashley at the end of the season in the event of promotion.

For the moment, Benitez is 100% focused on guiding United back into the top flight.

Asked about reports linking him with Arsenal, Benitez said: “I’m the manager for playing against Norwich and then the next games.

“That’s it, so I’m just focused on that.”

Benitez added: “As a manager you are used to have clubs talking and the media talking so what you have to do is just concentrate on your job.”

Wenger took charge of Arsenal 21 years ago.

And the 67-year-old is under intense pressure at the Emirates Stadium given that the club last won the league in 2004.

Benitez, however, refused to be drawn on Wenger’s future.

Asked if he thought this season would be Wenger’s last at Arsenal, Benitez said: “I don’t know.

“I have a good relationship with him. I think he’s a good manager, and that he’s doing a great job, but that is not my concern.”

Meanwhile, Rafa Benitez believes the return of Dwight Gayle will give Newcastle United another dimension.

Gayle has been sidelined for the past four weeks with a hamstring problem.

But the 20-goal striker is in Benitez’s squad for tonight’s game against Norwich City at Carrow Road.

Aleksandar Mitrovic and Daryl Murphy have weighed in with important goals in his absence.

However, Benitez still believes that United have missed Gayle’s pace and ability get in behind teams.

Asked how much Newcastle had missed Gayle, Benitez said: “Not in terms of what we were doing, because still we were winning games.

“But the way that we were playing has changed, because he is different to Murphy or Mitrovic.

“Daryl and Mitro, they were scoring goals and playing well with this style, but he’s different.

“Dwight is someone who can run behind defenders, with quick movements, and they’re more of a targetman-type.”