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Celebrated farewell? How Arsenal can still rescue this Wenger (& Enrique) shambles

COMMENT: Ivan Gazidis knows it. Stan Kroenke knows it. Even son Josh is across it. They all know. They know the man who lifted the Carabao Cup could have been in the Arsenal dugout on Sunday.

Four and half a years ago, so the story goes, Pep Guardiola made Arsenal aware it was they he wanted to manage after a year's sabbatical from Barcelona. Not Manchester United. Nor Bayern Munich. Guardiola wanted to take charge of Arsene Wenger's Gunners. And he made the running. The Catalan offered himself to the board. The response? Crickets. Wenger was in place and Kroenke wasn't about to shift him.

Fast forward to today and the same scenario confronts Arsenal. Another ex-Barca coach. Luis Enrique. Now on sabbatical. He wants the Arsenal job. He's spoken to the club's new football chief Raul Sanllehi about the post. The pair having spent near a decade together in various roles at Barca. The links are obvious, open. As are the dangers of inaction. Typical, consistent Arsenal inaction...

Because as strong as Enrique's ambitions are of succeeding Wenger, he isn't going to wait around. He doesn't have to. Chelsea are also an option. Like with Sanllehi, Enrique has informal contact with the Blues via Juliano Belletti, once of both Chelsea and Barca. The Brazilian hasn't been shy in encouraging rumours of a front office role being created for him at Cobham. In Spain, they see Chelsea as a natural fit. Chapi Ferrer, Andres Iniesta, they've all been at it, talking up Enrique's credentials as Antonio Conte's successor. If someone at Arsenal doesn't intervene soon, they're going to be working from the second rung - again.

For now, even with the club reeling. The fans raging. The board at Arsenal are sticking to their guns: Wenger has earned the right to decide when it's time for him to go. No-one will talk him out of leaving - not even Kroenke. But also, no-one is going to tap him on the shoulder. And the sad thing is, this pathetic inaction is not only hurting the club, but also Wenger himself.

There's no coming back from this season. The top four is out of reach. A League Cup blown. The Europa League? Against a revitalised. Energetic. Rino Gattuso-inspired AC Milan? On Sunday's showing at Wembley, it's going to be Bayern Munich home and away all over again.

This column isn't advocating Wenger's immediate removal. But Arsenal can turn this sinking ship around. Tap the manager on the shoulder. Make an announcement. End the inertia.

Grant Wenger a long farewell for the remainder of the season. Let us all celebrate him. For what he achieved in his 21 years in the English game. The way he transformed it. Revolutionised it. Dominated it. Give fans up and down the country and across Europe the opportunity to celebrate and thank Le Professor. And give Wenger the chance to receive the applause. The opportunity to leave on a high, with supporters singing his name, rather than the hate and bile now spilling out at the Emirates and away grounds this season.

And also give yourself a chance, Arsenal, to find the right replacement. Whether it be Sanllehi's Enrique. Or Sven Mislintat's Thomas Tuchel. Just give yourselves the time to get this appointment right. Because it's a guarantee, if Wenger is allowed to drag things out - as he did last season - that first-choice is going to be snapped up by someone else.

And just as critical, if Wenger is supported in delaying things again, the club will only be doing harm to it's greatest identity. Someone inside Arsenal's board room needs to find some bottle and tell the manager it's time to move on.

Even if he doesn't believe it, Wenger needs to be granted his long farewell. For his sake, for the club and the Arsenal support. Wenger's last action as manager, come June as he takes his final steps out of London Colney, must be to unite the club behind him and his legacy.

A celebrated goodbye, with board, players and fans together behind their departing manager, would be the ideal way Wenger could hand the club over to his successor.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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