The club have wanted Wenger to follow former manager Herbert Chapman, and former players Thierry Henry, Tony Adams and Dennis Bergkamp in being immortalised outside the club’s home for some time but the Frenchman had decided against returning until this week.
Wenger has admitted that he felt forced to leave Arsenal back in May 2018, when there was a clear sense that it would be better for all sides if he did not remain at the club while a new manager attempted to establish themselves.
That process was never complete under Unai Emery but Mikel Arteta, one of Wenger’s former captains, has now led a new generation of young players to the top of the Premier League.
Arteta, as well as former vice chairman David Dein, have been encouraging Wenger to return over recent months and he was given a rapturous reception by Arsenal fans during Monday’s 3-1 win against West Ham United.
Wenger’s former wife, Annie Brosterhous, appeared especially moved by the reaction of the Arsenal fans who, during the later years of his tenure, had become split on whether he should continue as manager.
There was never any divide, however, on Wenger’s status among the club’s greatest ever figures and the overwhelming desire of fans for him to return was communicated to his close friend Dein during a recent meeting of the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust.
Dein said that Wenger had been “bruised” by how it ended for him in 2018 following more than 22 years as manager during which he and the club won three Premier League titles, a record seven FA Cups and finished in at least the top four for 20 consecutive seasons.
Wenger was photographed back in the home dressing-room with some of the Arsenal players following Monday’s win and Arteta said that he hoped to be seeing even more of Wenger in the future.
There have been other significant changes of staff since 2018, with Edu, a midfielder in Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ team of 2003/04, now the club’s sporting director.
“I’ve been involved in the process but it’s about him, the timing he needed,” said Arteta of Wenger’s return. “Hopefully he’s going to leave here and be willing to spend more time with us because he is such an influence: for me personally, in my career, the way I see the game, but as well for this football club.”
Wenger is currently Fifa’s director of global development but, after a record 1,235 games as manager, says that Arsenal became “life and death” and is “still a part of me”. He rejected two managerial offers in the Premier League after leaving Arsenal partly because he could not ever imagine competing against his former club. He also turned down offers from Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid and the England national team while at Arsenal.