‘The Gaffer’ doesn’t deserve this treatment
IT is excruciating to witness what is happening to Arsenal and to Arsene Wenger, a man for whom I have so much respect that I still call him ‘The Gaffer’.
He was the man who told me my career at Arsenal was finished, in a soft but firm manner, and I remain grateful for how he went about that. Nobody wants to be told, “Now is the right time to go”. But I knew he was right.
As a player, I guess your body tells you that. I wonder how you know when you are a manager. I wonder if there is anyone at Arsenal who will be telling him that now?
I am viewed in some places as an apologist for Arsene, but I have so much respect for him and what he has achieved.
I wish it hadn’t come to this. I went to the ground on Tuesday hoping the team would show they had the tools for the fight. They did not.
I was co-commentating for BT Sport and, while you can lose yourself in the match concentrating on your work, I found the after-match experience a solemn and sad one.
People asked for pictures on their camera phones but every conversation included the comment: “He has to go now.”
The Arsenal supporters I encountered were angry and embarrassed but there was respect for Arsene too, with people asking: “How has it come to this?” I shook my head. I wonder that, too. Arsene is a great man and a great manager; a revolutionary and a man of many skills.
I defy anyone who shared the great moments with him over his 21 years at Arsenal to wish to see him hurting like this.
Seeing him on the touchline, it is like a watch that has stopped. When Laurent Koscielny was sent off, he didn’t come flying out of his dug-out.
It was as if it hadn’t dawned on him. I am becoming concerned for his health, it is painful to see. This club is his life.
I don’t want this great man — I have called him my footballing father — to be like a boxer on the ropes taking more and more punishment until badly hurt. Nobody with Arsenal in their heart will want that.
There is a quality about him as a man that is unusual in football. If you play for him, you are drawn to him.
But is he still at the highest level? Is he still able to mix it with Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino?
They are bright, hungry, young managers. Arsenal could finish outside the top four this season, which might provide the answer.
None of us are worthy to tap him on the shoulder and convince him his time is up at Arsenal. He has to see it for himself.
I’m pretty certain he does know it. But he wants to go out as a winner, as a champion. Football is his best friend. Maybe winning the FA Cup and finishing in the top four might achieve that.
He has been the greatest manager in Arsenal’s history and he deserves to go without so much fury and recrimination.