At the end of an emotional and seismic week for Arsenal Football Club, Arsene Wenger presided over a 4-1 victory over West Ham United.
While his post-match press conference started by touching on the game, unsurprisingly, the journalists in attendance were desperate for him to elucidate further on his announcement that he’ll step down from the club this summer.
Much like Ivan Gazidis on Friday, he was keen to avoid the specifics of why and how the decision was made despite the probing questions.
Here’s every word…
What were your reflections on today?
I felt that West Ham blocked us well in the first half and we had problems to find fluency in our game. I liked the game because we needed to be patient. I told the players at half time, if we keep the discipline we’ll find space and that’s what we did in the second half. We had many chances straight after in the first 10 to 15 minutes but we couldn’t take them. When it came back to 1-1 it was a little bit of a test as they had one or two chances as well. Once we scored the second goal, I think they collapsed a little bit and we could score many goals.
What was today like for yourself and also for the players? Bearing in mind what a special day it is…
Well, I think we are professional and we focus on our job. To be professional means you’re capable to do your job even if emotionally it is a little bit special. That’s what I did my whole life, it was not always easy circumstances. I believe that to be professional is to always prioritise your job, I will continue to do that as long as I am here.
It’s been a while since the fans have chanted, ‘One Arsene Wenger’ with such vociferousness, such volume, that must have been a special moment for you?
I am happy when our fans are happy. I’m even ready to suffer to make them happy. If sometimes they make me happy as well, i take it. Every single decision I made in my 22 years here is for the good and the sake of Arsenal. Even when they were wrong decisions, it was always with one priority, to do well for the club. I tried to influence the club on the structural side, on the development of players, the style of play and the results. To combine the three is not always easy. I believe that I leave the club in a very strong position on all fronts. My target was always to do that. I give an opportunity to the guy who comes in after me to do even better in the next 20 years. That’s my wish.
Do you want to have any say in who that will be?
No. I always feel that the most important [thing] in a football club is that everybody does their job. My job is to take care of the football team, of the results and of the finances of the transfers. That’s what I did. My job is not to select the next manager.
What persuaded you that this was the right time to go?
I made a statement, that is basically all you need. Overall, I feel it is not the moment to come out on that. I would like to focus and to keep the priorities right until the end of the season and to focus on how well I can do until the end. I’ll speak about that a bit later in my life.
Can you describe at all the range of emotions you’ve gone through in the last few days?
No, not really. It’s a mixed feeling. First, I must say I’m touched by all the praise I got from all in English football. I’m grateful to have had that experience in this country, that for me is special. Where the football is special, where the passion is special, you find it nowhere else. I know that I will not get that anymore in my life so that is absolutely special. That I could see the development of the Premier League in the last 20 years, that is sensational and I hope that will last for a very long time. After that I had a feeling a little bit to see life at my funeral…because people speak about you, how you were. It was a little bit interesting on that front, so I don’t need to die anymore. That is quite interesting. I must say, I would like to say that aside from a little sense of humour I would like to thank everybody who has been absolutely nice to me. It’s a bit our job, I certainly got more praise than I deserved and maybe sometimes, more criticism than I deserved. It has been difficult, but as well, fantastic.
Arsene, huge congratulations on your 22 years. What was the moment that you knew you were leaving? Where were you, what were you doing?
It’s not the moment to talk about that.
Arsene, you’ve always respected your contracts and that has been admirable, so what’s changed this time?
I just told you a few minutes ago, that I’ll talk one day about that. But it’s not the right moment.
You seemed to suggest a moment ago that you wouldn’t manage again in England when you answered one of the earlier questions, is that right?
If you speak about emotions, that would certainly for me, be emotionally difficult. I don’t know how well I will live without, so at the moment it’s difficult for me to say never. At the minute I speak to you, I’m too attached to this club to say I’ll go anywhere else.
Do you feel like you’ve processed it [leaving] in your head just yet? Has it hit you that you’re going to be leaving this club that you love in the summer?
I will completely never leave this club because my first look will always be for the result of Arsenal and how well the club develops. I will always be attached. It’s difficult, you do not give 22 years of your life like that, I gave the best years of my life to this club. I arrived at 46 years old and I worked seven days a week, not six, not six and a half, seven…for 22 years. You cannot just walk away and say thanks very much, bye bye like it’s absolutely normal. You cannot be on one side completely committed and after walk away like nothing happened, it’s impossible. I know I will face that challenge, that it will be difficult for me but I’ve had other difficulties in my life and I hope I will get through this one as well.
Is it your hope that making this announcement now galvanises the team and the club and the fans?
I don’t know. That was not the first speculation that the club needs to prepare for the future or that the earlier it is said, the better it is. You cannot come in on the 1st of June and say, look we’re separate now, do what you want.
When Ferguson left Manchester United it was very obvious that he would retire and that would be it. That’s definitely not the case with your statement, you want to manager…
Look, maybe. It’s new for me. I don’t know. Ferguson was different, I agree with you. He is still at the club, he stayed at Manchester United.
You said a year ago that you would carry on managing if you left this club, I don’t see you as a director of football, you still take training every day…
I can’t imagine you wanting to ‘go upstairs’, am I right?
Honestly, I cannot tell you much more. I don’t want you to come back to me in six months and say, you lied to us. I know I did that a few times!
I wouldn’t like to be definite today. I don’t know how I will respond to that situation.
What do you think the club needs from a new manager? What sort of a person? Also, what does the club need to do to get back to the level of expectation and ambition, in terms of competing for the Premier League and Champions League?
Look, you take me. And you take a guy who is much stronger in every strong point I have. You then have the perfect guy.
You talked about working seven days a week for 22 years and obviously it’s a stressful job. Have you felt, amongst the emotion you’ve felt, have you felt some relief?
No, because I was not tired. I feel that, how can I say it…personally, I believe that this club is respected all over the world, much more than in England. Our fans did not give the image of unity I want for this club, all over the world. That was hurtful. I feel the club is respected and overall, the image we gave from our club is not what it is and not what I like.
Some players, including Mertesacker, have said let’s win the Europa League for Arsene Wenger. Do you feel if Arsenal doesn’t win the Europa League that you will have been let down?
We will try, we play against Atletico Madrid. It’s very open. Hopefully we can continue to have positive results until the end. Then we’ll see where we go from there.
Would you be kind enough to elaborate on your comment about the fans, because that’s quite a strong statement about unity? Would you be kind enough to say when you felt that happened?
Nothing more to say. I feel that this club has a fantastic image and for me that is absolutely vital. We can speak and speak and speak. Sport is about winning and losing and you have to accept that you will lose games, even though I will not be here anymore. It is as well about something bigger than winning or losing and for me it was always a worry, how the club is perceived worldwide, for kids who play in Africa, America, China and the the dream that it can create for young children who want to play football. All our clubs, have a responsibility in that.
The fans clearly hurt you in that sense…
No, not me.
The club? The fans clearly hurt the club, in that sense?
Look, I’m not resentful. I do not want to make stupid headlines. I’m not resentful with the fans. If my personality is in the way of what I think this club is, for me that is more important than me. That is all I want to say, it’s nothing to do with the fans. The fans were not happy, that’s my job, I have to live with that. I can accept that.
What was being created [the tension] was damaging?
I don’t know if it was damaging, but it did not correspond with how I feel the club should be perceived and is perceived all over the world. If you travel with us…I travel a lot, you know, and this club is respected all over the world. That’s down to work, as well to the way we play football and the way we behave and the way we treat people. I want that to go on and to be respected. Even if there’s a lot of money in the game. Above all of that, more than the money, more than the results is the way the club is perceived and the example the club gives all over the world.