According to the BBC journalist David Ornstein, who has long been known to have close links with many of the staff and managers at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger was actually keen to stand down last summer and leave on a high after winning the FA Cup Final against Chelsea, but with the Board not having any sort of plan for a replacement he only signed a new contract to give them time to prepare their ‘catalyst for change’ as Gazidis famously said.
Ornstein reported today: I was told recently that Wenger was as stubborn, determined and energetic as ever and if he was to leave he would need to be dragged out kicking and screaming.
However, it is my understanding Wenger was actually closer to walking away towards the end of last season than we knew at the time. Confidants had urged him to leave on a high after the FA Cup win against Chelsea in May.
At that time, Arsenal did not have a firm plan in place to succeed him. They were not particularly well set up to start a recruitment process. Wenger knew as much and a part of him sensed – rightly or wrongly – that going then could have left them in the lurch, that he had something of an obligation to carry on and have one last crack a leading this team to success.
But things have deteriorated – on the pitch, in the stands and at a political level. Ask people what has changed and the response is “that is precisely the problem – nothing has changed to improve the situation from him”.
Those around Wenger could not see a way back after the limp defeat at Brighton in March that followed two defeats by Manchester City. As welcome as the victory that followed over AC Milan at the San Siro was, there was a growing acceptance that this would be his final campaign in charge.
Witnessing how far his team had fallen adrift of Premier League champions City opened Wenger’s eyes to the stark reality of where Arsenal stood and the near-impossible challenge he would face in the final year of his contract. He knew his time was up.
He has always been the great survivor at Arsenal, he has taken all the bullets and carried on, shielding the board, players and club. But it is only human that he started to feel the criticism piercing him.
We all know that since last summer Gazidis has been bringing in some of the top names in the footballing world, and he thinks the club is now in a position to take Arsenal forward in Wenger’s absence, which they were probably not ready to do last summer. As Gazidis said yesterday: “Actually we have a tremendous amount of experience in the football club. I’ve been involved in professional football for 25 years, overseeing the football side of Major League Soccer, with multiple coaching changes there. Raul Sanllehi has been through five or six different Barcelona coaching changes and presidential changes. Sven Mislintat has been through a number at Borussia Dortmund, and then on the board we have board members who are old enough and experienced enough to have been through Arsenal changes. And then of course Stan Kroenke and Josh Kroenke themselves have been through many, many coaching changes in different sports. All of that experience exists, I doubt there is a more experienced group in handling changes of coaches.”
So it seems that the protests and lack of success had already persuaded Le Prof that he couldn’t take the club forward any more, but out of the goodness of his heart he stayed on to take even more criticism for another year while the Board put the system in place to replace his know how.
Just another reason to give the great man the respect he deserves.