LONDON - Arsene Wenger has vowed to return to Arsenal as a supporter — and sit in the North Bank.
As the curtain fell on his reign with an emphatic victory over Burnley on Sunday, Wenger was visibly emotional while conducting his final post-match press conference as Arsenal manager at the place he calls home.
You get the impression that the Frenchman is still finding it incredibly difficult to process the fact he is the leaving the football club he has lived and breathed for 22 years.
Wenger helped shape the Emirates Stadium, having started his tenure when the club played at Highbury, and he vowed to return.
"I would be happy to sit in the North Bank," he said. "It depends on if I work somewhere else or not. In the job I do next, will I be free on the day Arsenal play? But I will be happy to be in the North Bank if you can get me a ticket."
He joked: "The positive of that is that I can shout at the next manager!"
It is no surprise that Wenger is finding it hard to let go of the stadium he described as the "field of dreams" when he addressed supporters after the final whistle. The 68-year-old’s role in building the Emirates should not be underestimated.
OK, he didn’t shovel cement nor lay any bricks. But Wenger had a huge amount of input in the stadium that opened in 2006.
He was also integral in making the move work financially for the club. The manager ensured Arsenal stayed in the Champions League — and recouped millions to help pay for their new home — during a period in which investment in his playing squad was significantly restricted.
"It’s a very sad day, because for me I came here to make the first photos of the stadium (site) and then the lorries came in when it was a refuse centre," recalled Wenger.
"So, this stadium, I have worked on every single part: from your press conference room to the technical area, so of course it’s part of myself."
Wenger again acknowledged that the disgruntled supporter base played a factor in the decision for him to leave this summer.
"I want to make people happy, sometimes to make people happy is to go somewhere else," he said.
But what chance of Wenger returning to the Emirates Stadium as a rival?
For now the Frenchman insists he does not know what the future holds. But the reality is that Wenger will be back in football before you know it. He will embark on a period of soul searching before making his comeback but does not plan to retire.
He added: "In my job, you learn to disconnect from yourself. You don’t analyse how you feel.
"For 20 years, I just felt, 'OK, forget about me, and just care about the problems you have to sort out'.
"I have to learn how to reconnect with myself now. I have a bit more time. I have to organise my life. I have to deal with it. It is a story that ends.
"But I see it in one way. Guys that manage a club of this stature for 22 years, there are not many.
"So I can only say, my friend, you have been very lucky. I will cherish every moment I was here but it’s a new start for me."