Arsenal promise to be 'bold' when picking new man
Arsenal are promising to be "bold" and could again go left-field in replacing Arsene Wenger after the club's most successful manager decided to announce his departure amid the prospect of being sacked this summer.
Wenger revealed yesterday morning that this would be his 22nd and last season as Arsenal manager and, while the timing of the public announcement was his, the wider backdrop was of the club already actively preparing for change. The clear expectation was that he would be asked to leave this summer and Wenger did not want to wait to be sacked. It was also felt that an early announcement would ensure that he received a big unifying send-off and allow all sides to prepare for a future apart.
It was noticeable that Ivan Gazidis would not answer whether he had wanted Wenger to stay or tried to persuade him to see out the remaining year on his contract. Wenger has shown no sign of wanting to retire from management and is expected to make a clean break and seek employment elsewhere.
Gazidis has been assessing potential replacements for several years, but has now actively begun the search and wants to preserve many of Wenger's values within a structure that gives the manager rather less power.
A new back-room team has already been assembled and, while Gazidis called it "our biggest-ever challenge", he said the club had never been better prepared.
Leading candidates are Monaco manager Leonardo Jardim, former Arsenal captain Mikel Arteta, former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique and Germany boss Joachim Loew.
A complication with Low will be his reluctance to do anything that could destabilise Germany's defence of the World Cup.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers would be interested and has admirers inside Arsenal, but there are concerns at how fans might respond to his appointment at a time when unity is desperately sought.
Former Borussia Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel is close to being appointed at Paris St-Germain, but Juventus manager Max Allegri is keen on eventually working in England and would be of interest if he is ready to move this summer.
Gazidis highlighted how Arsenal appointed an unknown in Wenger way back in 1996.
"Replace Arsene? That's not going to happen," he said. "But we have to make sure we don't lose his qualities and his values in the club and that we take them forward. So someone who will continue to play exciting, progressive football that gets people interested and excited in the games we play.
"That value of giving youth a chance is also very important. I think we've got to be open-minded and brave in the decision. We need to be bold in the appointment."
Wenger made the final decision to leave earlier this week and, after discussions with directors on Thursday, he personally informed his staff and the players yesterday morning. There were many tears both at the stadium and training ground, where club staff were said to be in a state of shock. Wenger has won three Premier League titles, an all-time record seven FA Cups, two doubles, reached the 2006 European Cup final and went the entire 2003-4 Premier League season undefeated. He also helped oversee the move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium.
Tributes were paid to Wenger yesterday from across sport, with his old adversary Alex Ferguson saying that he was "proud to have been a rival, a colleague and a friend to such a great man".
As ever, Wenger stressed the importance of maintaining the values he has embodied in his time in English football. Put simply, that is an entertaining playing style, opportunities for young players and a fiscal structure that safeguards the club's long-term future.
"After careful consideration and discussions with the club, I feel it is the right time for me to step down at the end of the season," said Wenger. "I am grateful for having had the privilege to serve the club for so many memorable years. I managed the club with full commitment and integrity. I urge our fans to stand behind the team to finish on a high. To all the Arsenal lovers take care of the values of the club. My love and support forever."
Arsenal's majority owner, Stan Kroenke, has always been a massive supporter of Wenger and regarded this as perhaps the hardest moment in his time in professional sport. "This is one of the most difficult days we have ever had in all our years in sport," he said.
"One of the main reasons we got involved with Arsenal was because of what Arsene has brought to the club on and off the pitch. His longevity and consistency over such a sustained period at the highest level of the game will never be matched.
"Arsene has unparalleled class and we will always be grateful to him. Everyone who loves Arsenal and everyone who loves football owes him a debt of gratitude. He has transformed the identity of our club and of English football with his vision for how the game can be played."
Gazidis added: "Arsene is going to feel the full force of this club behind him over the next couple of weeks. Arsene changed the game. He set a totally new standard. A new ambition. An ambition not just to win, but to win while achieving perfection. To make art out of football. He was always brave enough to be true to that extraordinary ambition and incredibly he achieved it with Arsenal's Invincibles season."