Former Arsenal striker Ian Wright has insisted Arsene Wenger must have been sacked as he cannot believe his old boss would have walked away from his post.
Wenger announced Friday his intention to step down as Arsenal manager at the end of the season after more than 21 years in charge of the north London club.
Arsenal haven’t won the Premier League title since 2004 and now face a second successive season where they will finish outside the top four.
They’ll also likely need to win the Europa League — Wenger’s men are in the semi-finals — to qualify for Europe’s elite Champions League tournament.
Wenger had faced repeated calls to quit from frustrated Gunners’ fans in recent seasons but the 68-year-old Frenchman had remained steadfast in wanting to carry on.
Wright, who helped Arsenal win the Premier League title in the early years of Wenger’s reign, was adamant he must have been forced by the club’s hierarchy.
“Arsene Wenger is a man of principle, honesty and integrity — that is why I am convinced he has been sacked and not resigned,” Wright told Saturday’s edition of The Sun tabloid.
“For all the vitriol and abuse thrown at him, Arsene Wenger has never been a man to walk out before the end of a contract,” he added.
– ‘Doesn’t add up’ –
“It is a sad situation that it’s come to this and I don’t suppose we will ever find out who is responsible, because they will hide behind each other.
“One day he is doing a press conference with no hint of this, the next he’s gone. It doesn’t add up.
“But Arsene can go with his head high. That’s why, whatever the results, it is imperative he gets the send-off a true Arsenal and football legend deserves. We all owe him so much.”
Meanwhile Wright’s former team-mate Martin Keown, who won three titles under Wenger, said leaving Arsenal would feel like a “bereavement” for the manager.
“My overwhelming emotion is one of sadness,” Keown told the Daily Mail.
“Beyond his family, Arsenal and football are Arsene Wenger’s two greatest loves. To give up one of them will feel like a bereavement.
“That is what it felt like to me when my time with the club ended. I spent 18 years of my career there and, even now, I still have not really got over leaving. To leave Arsenal Football Club hurts to the very core.
“For many of Wenger’s former players – myself included – it will feel like a part of them is gone from the club forever following his departure.”