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What did Arsene Wenger really mean with his comments about Arsenal fans?

08:15 BST 26/04/2018
Arsene Wenger, Arsenal
The manager's surprising comments about fan unity have been scrutinised and Goal takes a look at what the Frenchman was referring to

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger courted headlines after the Gunners win over West Ham when he said the lack of unity among fans in recent seasons has been “hurtful” to the club.

Wenger announced on Friday that he was to end his 22 year stay at Arsenal following years of protests calling for the Frenchman to resign from his role.

More recently the club’s Emirates Stadium has seen attendances dwindle due to supporters keeping away to highlight their discontent with Arsenal’s inconsistency and inability to challenge for a major trophy.

When asked whether he was relieved to be leaving behind his busy schedule, he responded:

"No, because I was not tired. But, 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 the unity I want at the club all over the world and that was hurtful because 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."

Goal spoke to Arsenal Supporters’ Trust board member Akhil Vyas to get the fans' view on what Wenger was hinting at with his comments, why the decision has been made for him to leave and what kind of manager could fit the bill as his replacement.

“Across the world people look at the media here and see ‘Wenger Out’ banners, Arsenal Fan TV potentially, empty seats and that kind of stuff. It doesn’t give the sign that Arsenal are united and seems that people aren’t singing from the same hymn sheet.

“I think that’s what he [Wenger] was trying to hint at. That Arsenal are very respected around the world and he reflected back to his 22 years thinking that the club weren’t as big and respected as they are now, but things have happened in the last year or so that have changed the way people perceive us abroad a little bit.

“Ivan Gazidis said ‘Arsene is ultimately accountable to the fans' in 2011. It might have been a slip of the tongue but he did say that. When you see the banners, protests it could [his resignation] be partly because of that. We’re in sixth position, not in the Champions League, contract renewals are a bit slow so I think there’s a combination of everything - performances on the pitch, apathy in the stands and a little bit of not being united as a fanbase.

An AST survey in March saw 89% of members vote for Arsenal to end Wenger's contract when his position was set to be reviewed this summer – but Vyas says the numbers don’t tell the complete story of the supporters’ underlying respect towards the long-serving manager.

“Eighty-nine per cent said it was time to go but when we got the survey analysed independently there was so much respect for him. There was a lot of ‘I think he’s done great and 'I’ll always be in awe of him but I think it’s time for a new change because things have run its course’. That kind of gets misreported but when you dig deeper quite a high percentage were still full of respect for him.”

The silverware success in the FA Cup has seen Wenger become the most successful manager in the oldest cup competition in English football, yet the frustration with most fans has been at Arsenal's struggle to maintain a genuine domestic title challenge and compete with Europe's elite in the Champions League over the past decade.

“We finished second to Leicester in the title race two years ago but we weren’t really in it, it was because Spurs imploded. Finishing outside the top four for the first time last season opened a lot of eyes. The FA Cups have obviously been fantastic and you can’t belittle them, but in terms of the league and Champions League we haven’t looked anywhere near competing let alone winning.

"Nothing lasts forever, the world is changing. Sir Alex Ferguson had to leave one day, Pep Guardiola left Barcelona. The new continental structure with Raul [Sanllehi], Sven [Mislintat] and Huss [Fahmy] is where most clubs are going, but could Wenger work in that? Probably not, just because for 22 years he hasn’t.

"If the continental structure is starting to sign players for you like [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang – who was cup tied and Wenger knew he might be off in the summer – but it made sense for the club going forward. When people start to interfere even in a positive way that can sometimes be the trigger.

"From a personal point of view he once said that he when leaves Arsenal he’ll buy a season ticket, get a red and white scarf and come and watch Arsenal. I hope he does because he’d be great as a fan and an unofficial consultant for the club to talk to. He’s still got great knowledge of the game, players will still look up to him, when he leaves he’ll stay in contact with them. When Kolo Toure failed a drug test the first person he messaged was Arsene Wenger and you can see that happening.

"Ultimately, it’s how he feels but he could also do a great job at FIFA or UEFA, he’s always got great opinions on football and he can do it."

As Wenger's time at Arsenal comes to an end, the search for a new manager in north London hots up. The likes of Luis Enrique, Massimiliano Allegri and Carlo Ancelotti have all been mentioned, while Gunners legends including Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry have also been touted. Vyas believes that the risk-taking nature of Arsenal's previous managerial appointments may provide a hint, but maintains the most important quality of the new coach is to demand respect and get the best out of the current crop of players.

"I was pretty sure on having someone experienced in for a couple of years but I think I’ve changed my mind a little bit. You look at Ozil, Ramsey and Aubameyang, players like that who are all at their peak now. It’s someone who is going to get the best out of them.

"Is it going to be someone experienced or someone younger you take the risk on? It’s always been the Arsenal style to take risks.

"Wenger hadn’t won a league title, Graham, Terry Neill, Stewart Robson, Bruce Rioch – a lot of them hadn’t won anything. Someone who gets the best out of players and demands respect and can get the best out of the team right now [is needed]. That’s the most important thing."