Arsene Wenger’s departure from Arsenal as the club’s manager in 2018 was bittersweet.
He is the longest-serving English Premier League manager but quit after 22 years at the helm of a disgruntled section of fans unhappy that Arsenal have been unable to win the league title since the 2003 season/ 04.
On Monday, Wenger returned to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium for the first time in more than four years to watch the team play.
Invited by Arsenal, the 73-year-old Frenchman watched from the club’s managers’ stand as the Premier League leaders came from behind to beat West Ham United 3-1.
“I’ve been involved in the process, but it’s about him, the time he needed to take this step and hopefully he’ll live here and be ready to spend more time with us and to be around us because he is such an influence,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta told the club’s website after Monday’s victory.
“For me personally – my career and the way I see the game – but also for this football club,” added Arteta, who played for Arsenal and Wenger between 2011 and 2016.
When Wenger arrived in England he was only the third overseas manager to coach a Premier League side.
He introduced new ideas on nutrition, training and tactics and established a track record for signing players who became world stars, including Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie .
Nicknamed the ‘teacher’ – Wenger has a degree in economics – the Frenchman also played a central role in the construction of Arsenal’s new training ground and Highbury’s move to the Emirates Stadium in 2006.
It was under Wenger that Arsenal won the Premier League title in 1998, 2002 and 2004 and won seven FA Cups. Arsenal won the league and the FA Cup double in 1998 and 2002.
The 2003-2004 side were dubbed ‘The Invincibles’ after going through the Premier League season unbeaten – with 26 wins and 12 draws.
Arteta said his team didn’t know Wenger would be watching the Boxing Day game.
“We wanted to keep quiet and leave this space for Arsene here. And it was a really special day – thank you very much to him for coming,” Arteta told Arsenal’s website.
“I hope that as he walks through the building, he feels everything that everyone thinks of him, everything that he left here.
“His presence is something that must be very attached to this football club. So thank you for doing this because it means a lot to everyone in the club.
Arsenal’s win over West Ham gave the Gunners a seven-point lead over Newcastle United at the top of the Premier League table.
“A really special day, because Boxing Day is a great day to play football,” Arteta told Arsenal’s website. “And I thought the performance was at the level today that it [Wenger] deserves, and I hope he likes it.
Since 2019, Wenger has been FIFA’s Head of Global Football Development.