10 days ago Arsene Wenger announced that he would leave Arsenal at the end of the season, bringing the curtain down on 22 years at the club and shocking the footballing world.
It’s not that we didn’t expect him to go sooner or later, it was that we didn’t expect it now.
At best, we reckoned it would come at the season end, just like his contract renewals.
With time comes clarity that was not immediately evident in the aftermath of his announcement. No doubt with a few more weeks or months we will get an ever clearer idea of what went on to bring the Wenger era at Arsenal, finally, to a close.
Running this site I spend most of my time reading everything and anything Arsenal related. Often, when you only have snippets, it’s hard to see the full picture.
But going on what I’ve read over the past week and a bit, both on social media and in the press around the world, I think I have formed a decent picture of what happened. At the very least, it’s a picture someone somewhere wants formed.
Wenger’s announcement last Friday shocked everybody. Players, staff, fans, neutrals and journalists alike. Nobody saw it coming or even had a whiff that it was in the air.
This is a man who repeats ‘I have never broken a contract’ like it is his personal mantra. The decision, it seemed, would have to come from above his head by way of an active sacking this summer or a passive non-renewal of his contract next.
Arsenal being Arsenal seemed to opt for the latter.
They fed stories to the press so fans were told this was out of respect for the manager and everything he had done for the club but now, with hindsight, it seems clear it was because they simply weren’t ready for him to leave, despite having two years to prepare after his new contract in 2015.
David Ornstein, the most trusted source outside of Arsenal, revealed recently that Wenger was actually very close to leaving last summer.
People close to the manager had finally managed to get through and convince him that it was time to walk away. Arsenal had just won the FA Cup against Chelsea, but they had dropped out of the top four, missing out on Champions League football as this squad reached its limit.
But Arsenal had no plan in place to replace him and Wenger being the type of character he is, opted to remain as he felt that was the best option for the club, as well as for him personally.
Don’t doubt that Wenger had selfish motives for wanting to remain at Arsenal, but you must also accept that this is a man who has frequently put what he thought was best for Arsenal above his own desires.
Whether you agree with what he thought was best for Arsenal is another matter, but last summer, Ornstein claims, Wenger saw a vision of Arsenal with no idea how to fill the hole he would leave. Best stay until they do, he reasoned.
In part, he felt obligated to stay.
Ivan Gazidis’ ‘catalyst for change’ comments had still not turned into concrete action by the time the summer arrived.
Gazidis spoke in April, the season ended in May and Wenger signed a new deal before June arrived.
Darren Bugess as the Director of High Performance arrived in June but it was an arrival that interested few people. Nobody saw it as the first block in the Wenger succession plan.
Next game Huss Fahmy the same month. People started to take notice. Here was a man being handed a brief centred on the legal aspects of player contracts.
In July, Invincible Jens Lehmann arrived as a first team coach. Per Mertesacker was appointed as the Head of the Academy.
Then it all stopped. There was no major overhaul to Arsene Wenger’s backroom staff. The same coaches who had been there for the majority of Wenger’s time at the club remained. Ivan’s catalyst seemed to have stuttered.
October arrived and Silent Stan decided to speak as fans grew more restless.
“We have done a lot of things and will continue to,” Kroenke said.
“We have doubled our people on the football operation side. On analytics, we have a central office, with really sharp PhD types watching the rest of the analytics trying to make sure we are creating best practices. We are building new ways of looking at things that we think will get us better.
“Yes, we have added (first team coach) Jens Lehmann, (director of high performance) Darren Burgess but just doubling the football staff doesn’t make it better. We think we are making it better and, as we identify areas that need help, we go get the help.
“It’s about the ability to be efficient and spend it in the best way to make your club the best.”
Arsenal fans had to wait until November for the big announcements. Sven Mislintat was signed and Raul Sanllehi was coming. Here, finally, were signs that Arsenal were serious about preparing for life after Wenger.
At the very least, they were trying to pry some power from his hands.
But despite all that, it seemed like Arsenal would head into next season with Arsene Wenger still in charge.
There was no sign from the club or manager himself that this season would be his last.
Josh Kroenke arrived for three months to asses the state of play at the club but returned home after fewer than two. Had he seen enough to make up his mind? Perhaps.
What is undeniable is that up until fans started staying away in their thousands and season ticket holders started refusing to renew, this was the plan for the summer.
That seems to have been the final straw, the one that forced the club to act.
As many have said all for years, as long as the Emirates continued to be sold out and season tickets in demand, the club had no urgency to change the manager.
Many will deny the link but it takes some Trumpian mental gymnastics not to see the connection. Arsene Wenger announced he was stepping down after 22 years in charge just 50 days after the Emirates first emptied against Manchester City on 1 March.
Remember, this was a man who didn’t want to leave and a club that didn’t want to sack him with time still left on his contract yet we are expected to believe that 50 days after the crowd started to turn their back on the club, he decided to call it quits?
Wenger’s comments about the timing not being his call and the subsequent cover up mean nothing. The man is still trying to protect a spineless board who couldn’t do what was needed for years and then threw him to the wolves at the first hint of a diminishing gate receipts.
It’s long past time for Arsene to go, but perhaps, even more overdue, is Ivan Gazidis et al taking responsibility for their own part in all this and that starts with being honest about what happened here with Arsene Wenger.