In a stunningly frank interview with French radio station RTL (English translation here), Arsene Wenger has admitted that up to half his first team wanted to quit the Emirates this summer as widespread discontent ravaged his pre-season plans.
Having sanctioned the sale of long-term stars Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Gael Clichy and Emmanuel Eboue and with the likes of Denilson, Nicklas Bendtner, Carlos Vela and Manuel Almunia demanding regular first team football elsewhere, the Frenchman was left with little choice but to bolster his squad by entering into a frantic spending spree which saw five new players recruited in the final 48 hours of the transfer window.
Reflecting on the unprecedented upheaval and the toil it took on his side’s stability in the opening weeks of the season, Wenger ruefully reflected:
“This summer was the most agitated I’ve ever known. I had half the players in the dressing room who wanted to leave.
“You prepare a season, we go to Asia, we don’t know who is coming, the players who are still there are asking themselves what is happening and if an earthquake is hitting the club. It’s extraordinarily difficult.
“I think that what saved us is that we are a club which is extremely solid and united. There are many other clubs who would have exploded.”
Taking heart from the fact the situation could have been even worse, Wenger justified his last gasp shopping spree by stressing that his work was not haphazard and had actually been rather successful.
“It was a crazy close season because I signed four players in three days.
“It was a whole night of negotiations and a lot of uncertainty but in the end it worked well.
“I believe it was a very good summer in terms of signings.”
While many Arsenal fans have lamented the fact that replacement duo Yossi Benayoun and Mikel Arteta are not in the same class as Nasri and Fabregas, Wenger effectively admitted that this was indeed the case, but that finding similar calibre players was not always easy.
“You have to be conscious of the fact you don’t find a Fabregas and a Nasri in every corner of the street.
“It’s not for that that your signing policy goes wrong, it’s just that they are players of great class and to find their like again is not easy.
“Fabregas — even if you don’t mess your transfer policy — you still have to travel far to find one.”
Speaking more openly in his native tongue and with a media he trusts more than the one he takes on in England, Wenger also answered questions on whether he was growing tired of the increased pressure at Arsenal.
“I have periods where I am tired, yes. It’s true that the close season makes people think you’re resting but it’s during that that you work the most.
“I got in the habit of working all the time. I think I must have been lazy in a previous life and was punished to come back in a very tiring and stressful job.
“I’d like to go to Tahiti for a month but I can’t. From time to time I would like to because I’m running out of time. Everyone gets older.”
He then somewhat philosophically added: “When I arrive at the gates of Heaven the Good Lord will ask ‘what did you do in your life?’
“I will respond ‘I tried to win football matches.’ He will say: ‘Are you certain that’s all?’ But, well, that’s the story of my life.”
Arsenal will travel to France tomorrow for their Champions League clash with Marseille where Wenger will no doubt be expecting an onslaught from the travelling English press eager to challenge his latest remarks in the pre-game press conference. They may also be curious as to how Arsene has secured himself a quizzing at the hands of God rather than usual Pearly Gates doorman Saint Peter.
FYI – Flights from Nice to Papeete, Tahiti leaving on Thursday morning currently cost £1,968.10.