Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis presided over a packed press conference to discuss the end of Arsene Wenger’s 22-year managerial reign, making it feel more like a funeral, but without discussing what part he or the Arsenal board played in killing off the French coach.
Wenger signed a two-year deal after winning a record seventh FA Cup last summer. He has proudly never reneged on a contract despite facing vehement opposition from inside the club and a restless fan base in recent years.
With Wenger’s side sliding increasingly and rapidly off the pace as title contenders in recent seasons, it is not a shock that a parting of the ways has been agreed.
But it seemed strange the immensely articulate Gazidis chose to deflect questions over the timing of “the decision” to announce Wenger’s departure at the end of this season and to what extent, if any, it had been a mutual agreement.
Explaining he had spent a quiet, emotional hour with Wenger at the training ground after the club’s announcement, Gazidis chose to pay a glowing tribute to the club’s most successful ever manager, a man who he said has earned the right to run things the Arsene and Arsenal way.
Recalling a close personal 10-year working relationship between the pair, he said: “Obviously this has been an emotional day for everyone connected with the football club and I now have the impossible job of trying to express the feelings of those of us who love the club and love football.
“Typically, Arsene is not here today because his focus is on the game on Sunday [against West Ham.] I left him on the fields of the training ground at Colney this morning, that is who he is.
“I will leave it to others to talk about the facts and figures of his 22-year tenure, his achievements are extraordinary and many of them will not be repeated.
“But there is something more coming out today - there is widespread affection from Arsenal fans but also from right across the sphere of football.
“People these days use the words football philosophy lightly but Arsene truly has a football philosophy and has been brave enough to live by it.
“In doing that he has reinvented the game and played some of the best football we have ever seen.
“He has transformed the beautiful game and has made Arsenal famous throughout the world for the style of football we play. Arsenal fans take enormous pride in that and for that, we say ‘thank you, Arsene’.”
After his prepared statement, Gazidis was asked to explain the reasoning and emotion behind the decision for Wenger to go.
He responded: “I don’t want to get into the private conversations. I don’t think today is the day for that. I want to respect the privacy of the conversations that were had around the decision.
“Arsene will speak on Sunday, but from my part it’s really about paying tribute to a great man and talking about the club as we look forward.”
But how will Gazidis and his new board go about appointing a new Arsenal manager for the first time? Germany’s Joachim Low was the buzz word around the club yesterday, but the future is far from certain.
“We’re not going to find a replacement for Arsene Wenger. For a variety of reasons Arsene is an extraordinary manager and an extraordinary person. He came into the game 22 years ago, when the game was very different. It’s evolved in so many ways and Arsene has evolved with it.
“When we look forward, the football club is in a very different place to what it was 22 years ago. It’s unthinkable to me that we’re going to have another manager in the Premier League, let alone at Arsenal, who will be 22 years in tenure and have the [same] run of consistent success... We’re going to have a process around that. The process begins today but I want to keep that process in-house. I don’t want to be making public comments about it.
“We’ll go through a respectful process. In accordance with Arsenal values and our respect for this man, we haven’t had any discussions today regarding that. That process begins today.
“I’ve said I don’t underestimate the challenge of that. This club has to rise to the challenge. I’m confident we can do it. As you started by saying, and as I started by saying, you don’t find a replacement for Arsene Wenger, you find a new path forward.”
There is even a chance, Gazidis said, that Wenger will have an input regarding his successor and possibly a role at the club in the future.
“Arsene will always have a place at the club. Today it’s too early to talk about what that might look like down the road. I think for today we’re dealing with the announcement that was made this morning and the immediate reaction to that.”
Knowing there will now be more focus on his role at the club, Gazidis then defended the strength of Arsenal’s new manager selection squad.
He added: “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 members who are old enough and experienced enough to have been through Arsenal changes.
“And then, of course, [owner] Stan Kroenke and [his son] 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. Having said all of that, it is a unique situation. None of us has been through a coaching change and a managerial change that will be like this one. I recognise the size of the challenge but I do think we have the resources and the people and the experience and the know-how to make the right choice for the future of this football club.”
Gazidis expressed his hopes for the immediate future were packed crowds for Arsenal’s three remaining home games, ending with a bumper send off against Burnley on May 6.
It will be an emotional few weeks for all concerned.
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