Arsenal face ‘biggest challenge’ in replacing Arsene Wenger – Ivan Gazidis
The Frenchman has announced he will stand down as Arsenal manager when the season ends.
Arsenal face the “biggest challenge” in their history to make a success of life after Arsene Wenger, according to chief executive Ivan Gazidis.
The Frenchman announced on Friday morning that he would stand down as Gunners boss at the end of the season after almost 22 years in charge.
The world of football has united in praise of Wenger’s achievements and longevity at Arsenal, with warm words from old adversaries Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho among others, and the club now have the unenviable task of identifying a successor.
Gazidis insisted that process “began today” and that no in-house discussions had previously taken place about a replacement out of respect to Wenger.
And he was in no doubt as to how tough it will be to ensure the succession is a smooth one, with Germany coach Joachim Low, former Borussia Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel and Celtic’s Brendan Rodgers among those linked with the job.
“I have often said (replacing Wenger) is the biggest challenge we face,” Gazidis said.
“In the coming months the world will see the unity and power of this football club, and the people within it.
“We are not going to find a replacement for Arsene Wenger – we have to find a new path forward.”
The Frenchman moved to Highbury back in 1996 and delivered some of the best football the early Premier League had seen as he led Arsenal to three titles during his tenure.
The unbeaten ‘Invincibles’ season of 2003-04 will forever be remembered but that would deliver the last of those league crowns, as a fallow period followed.
Moving to the state-of-the-art Emirates Stadium tightened the purse strings as Arsenal were caught and surpassed by the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City – the newly-crowned champions a massive 33 points clear of the Gunners at the time of Wenger’s surprise announcement.
His position has come under intense scrutiny over the past 18 months due to repeated failings in the Premier League and Champions League.
Wenger has lifted the FA Cup in three of the last four seasons but that has not been enough to appease some supporters.
The club are set to compete against Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semi-finals next week.
Wenger said in a statement on Friday morning: “After careful consideration and following discussions with the club, I feel it is the right time for me to step down at the end of the season.
“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 want to thank the staff, the players, the directors and the fans who make this club so special.
“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 for ever.”
Gazidis’ evening press conference was primarily his chance to pay tribute to Wenger on behalf of the club.
“Arsene often said his aim was to leave the club in a better position than when he found it and we are in a better place today than we could have ever imagined 22 years ago,” he said.
“No words can describe this man. He loves the game and loves this club. Today is about paying tribute to a great manager and a great man. Our first priority is to come together as a club and we are doing that today.
“Look at the outpouring of affection from the Arsenal family and the football family,” Gazidis said.
“We will give him the send-off he deserves.”
Mourinho, who has crossed swords with Wenger during two spells at Chelsea and now with Manchester United, said he hoped Wenger was happy with the decision and that it did not mean he would now retire from football.
Ferguson, Wenger’s great rival at United, said about Wenger: “He is, without doubt, one of the greatest Premier League managers and I am proud to have been a rival, a colleague and a friend to such a great man.”
Arsenal’s majority shareholder Stan Kroenke said on Friday morning: “This is one of the most difficult days we have ever had in all our years in sport.
“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 also transformed the identity of our club and of English football with his vision for how the game can be played.
“We have high ambitions to build on Arsene’s remarkable tenure and to honour his vision by ensuring that Arsenal competes for and wins the biggest and most important prizes in the game.”