LONDON – Arsene Wenger admits his long goodbye from Arsenal has been a bittersweet experience as he prepares to finally say farewell on Sunday.
The Frenchman will take charge of Arsenal for the last time as his 22-year reign comes to an end with the Gunners' Premier League clash at Huddersfield this weekend.
The 68-year-old has been on a prolonged farewell tour since Arsenal announced on April 20 that he had agreed to part ways with the north London club following another troubled season.
Wenger has tried to stay focused on football, but he conceded it hasn't always been easy amid all the nostalgia triggered by his impending departure.
“I enjoyed some aspects of it, yes - and not all,” Wenger said during his final pre-match press conference at Arsenal's training base on Thursday.
“It was not always easy to cut slowly with what you do everyday and always you want to do it as well as you can and you don't want to forget to thank people who deserve it. There are some people here who I employed 20 years ago who did fight for me every single day so it is not easy to say goodbye.”
While Arsenal have insisted Wenger's exit was on mutual terms, the Gunners boss has dropped several hints that he would have preferred to stay on for the final year of his contract.
But that was impossible after Arsenal's dismal run left them languishing in sixth in the Premier League amid growing fan unrest at Wenger's failure to win the title since 2004.
The final weeks of Wenger's reign have seen that inconsistent form continue as the Gunners crashed out of the Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid - condemning the club to another season without Champions League football.
A 3-1 defeat at Leicester on Wednesday leaves Arsenal without an away league point in 2018.
Control the animal
The highlights of Wenger's farewell have been home victories over West Ham and Burnley, the latter followed by an emotional on-pitch presentation to mark his final match in charge at the Emirates Stadium.
Wenger would have liked the announcement of his departure to have been delayed until the end of the season to avoid all the attention.
“Yes, of course. Because there was more questioning as well, you do not feel the same adhesion to what you do and when you stay here for such a long period you question yourself 'is it time now to go or not?'“ he said. “We live in a society where people want quick change and that has changed in recent years.”
Wenger led Arsenal to three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups, as well as reaching the Champions League final in 2006 and transforming English football with his ground-breaking commitment to sports science.
Those feats will see Wenger ranked as Arsenal's greatest manager, but the urbane Frenchman's professorial image sometimes obscured his fierce will to win.
He engaged in long-running feuds with Jose Mourinho and Alex Ferguson, while battling several bosses in touchline rows that turned physical.
“I'm very passionate and at a very young age, I realised that if I wanted to survive in this job, I had to get control of my emotions or I wouldn't survive,” he said. “There's a long learning process of controlling who you really are. Control the animal that is inside you. That helps me a lot.”
“I went through some fantastic periods in my life, and as well some more difficult periods. The fact that I managed to keep control of my emotions and my reactions helped me a lot to do my job. You have seen the real Arsene Wenger, one aspect of me, which is a desperate guy who wants to win football games.”
“That's the thing that matters. That's what is a really big part of my personality.”