LONDON • Arsene Wenger surprised many last Friday when he announced that he was ending his 22-year reign as Arsenal manager at the end of this season.
And at a media conference yesterday ahead of today's Europa League semi-final first leg against Atletico Madrid at the Emirates Stadium, the Frenchman dropped another bombshell.
He hinted that he was forced to leave, although he stopped short of a proper explanation.
When asked by reporters why he decided to quit now, the 68-year-old simply said: "The timing was not really my decision, for the rest I've talked about already."
The British media had reported last Friday that Wenger was told by the club hierarchy he would be sacked this summer if he did not step down, and his comments yesterday seemed to have revealed the truth.
However, he insisted that he was just focused on today's game.
THE CLUB WILL DECIDE
I have a high opinion on him, but I do not want to influence the job of the next manager.
ARSENE WENGER , outgoing Arsenal manager, refusing to answer rumours of former Barcelona boss Luis Enrique replacing him.
"In our job, only one thing matters, the next game," Wenger said.
"Honestly, I don't know what I will do (after this season). I will continue to work that's for sure. My pride has always been to give my best to where I'm employed until the last day of my contract. At the moment I'm just focused on that."
He also refused to answer rumours of former Barcelona boss Luis Enrique replacing him.
"I have a high opinion on him, but I do not want to influence the job of the next manager," he added.
Arsenal's only chance of qualifying for next season's Champions League is by winning the Europa League. To do so, Wenger will need to achieve something that he could not even manage in his peak years in charge - win a European trophy.
His two final losses in the 2000 Uefa Cup to Galatasaray and against Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League, allied to a Cup Winners' Cup final defeat by Werder Bremen when he was manager of Monaco in 1992, handed him the ignominy of being the only manager ever to reach the finals of all three European club competitions and lose every one.
However, Wenger's legacy will be looked on far more kindly if he could bow out in his homeland next month in Lyon by guaranteeing Champions League football for his successor.
Hopes that Wenger's announcement would galvanise the fans' support for the final few weeks were confounded by a subdued atmosphere for last Sunday's 4-1 win over West Ham at the Emirates.
But Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis insisted there will be "an electric atmosphere" tonight with far more at stake for the club.
The hosts need to feed off some positive energy from the stands to build a lead to take to Madrid in a week's time.
With Atletico sitting comfortably in second in LaLiga and already assured of Champions League football next season, their coach Diego Simeone was able to rest a number of key players for last Sunday's 0-0 draw with Real Betis.
That was Atletico's 11th straight clean sheet at the Wanda Metropolitano to emphasise Arsenal's need to take a first-leg lead to Spain.
One thing for sure, Simeone would not allow Wenger to end his glittering career on a high so easily.
"Is there a perfect goodbye? I don't know. I just want to do well," Wenger added.
ARSENAL V ATLETICO MADRID
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