Arsenal will celebrate Arsene Wenger’s 22-year managerial reign around his final home match against Burnley tomorrow, but the party lap of honour is in danger of turning into a funeral march after their Europa League humbling in Spain.
Defeat by Atletico Madrid means Wenger hands over the reigns to his successor without the lure of Champions League football to entice the best players and coaches to embark on a massive rebuilding job at a club he effectively ran for over two decades.
However, the future should be an exciting one for Arsenal players and supporters alike, according to another club hero who is also set to leave this summer.
Gifted Spain international midfielder Santi Cazorla is on the comeback trail after an 18-month injury marathon in which he almost lost a foot to gangrene after Achilles tendon surgery.
Though the new manager — which will be Luis Enrique, according to every Spanish reporter I quizzed in Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on Thursday night — is unlikely to give the 33-year-old a new deal, he is far from downhearted. The only player in the Arsenal squad prepared to face the media after Diego Costa’s goal condemned his club to a 2-1 aggregate semi-final defeat against Diego Simeone’s impregnable side, Cazorla said: “I think the club is planning to makes changes in so many areas, and planning exciting changes for the future.”
Pressed on former Barcelona boss Enrique, he replied: “I don’t know who will come, but is for sure the manager is not going to carry on.
“We have not been told who is going to be the new coach, we can only speculate about the new Arsenal project. Now, we have to finish the season in the best form possible and to say goodbye to the boss in the best possible way.”
Wenger has often stated his sadness at Cazorla’s plight, also citing him as the most significant loss to the Arsenal side this season.
The player is like-minded, revealing the post-match dressing room had been one of quiet devastation in Madrid.
“Everybody was very disappointed. It was not an easy moment for us. It is very sad. We wanted to reach the final, for so many reasons, to save the season, for the manager, for the club and for the fans and, to be so close to the final, it is very hard.
“Personally, I feel very frustrated, because of my injury, I could not help the manager and the team. I could not enjoy watching, but I tried to support my team-mates off the pitch in anyway.
“I am on my way [back] and I am positive. I still have a long time to go and I have to be patient. I’m trying to do more things on the pitch day by day, but I don’t want to make plans for the future and I hope to be back as soon as possible.”
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