IT was back in May 2018 that Arsene Wenger took charge of his last game as Arsenal manager.
And after ending his remarkable 22-year reign, he has taken a monk-like vow of silence on the Gunners.
But now everyone’s favourite Frenchman has a new book to plug — and suddenly there is no shutting him up.
Wenger, who will probably celebrate his 71st birthday next Thursday watching a couple of Europa League games, has engaged in a seemingly endless round of interviews to coincide with the publication of My Life In Red & White.
The book might be short on revelations but his conversations remain fascinating.
Here are some of the highlights . . .
ON MESUT OZIL
“Mesut has been the record player of assists so Arsenal have to find a way to get him involved again. Otherwise, it is a waste for him and for the club.
“He is at the age where a player of his talent can produce the most because he’s a super creative player who can come up with that killer pass in the final third.
“The way football is going now, it’s quick counter-pressing, quick transitions and everybody plays the same.
“It’s kicked out players like Ozil but we should not forget that this is a guy who played at Real Madrid and who won the World Cup.”
“In my early years at Monaco, I felt, ‘I have to stop this because I am killing myself’.
“I was physically sick. I had to throw up after every defeat. And every big defeat was a scar in my heart for ever.
“Whenever I lost a game I would think, ‘How many families are unhappy tonight and who is responsible for that?’
“And I carried all that guilt until the next game.
“The people who have a big passion for the game suffer from it because they have a lot of selfish behaviour.
“The way I approached the job was best suited to a single person and, honestly, somewhere I think that I was a monster and I’m not very proud of that.”
ON THIERRY HENRY
“In 1999, I went to Juventus with David Dein because we wanted to sign Thierry Henry and they wanted to sign Nicolas Anelka.
“At three o’clock in the morning we agreed an exchange, plus £15million, for Arsenal.
“But Nicolas didn’t want to go to Juventus so we sold him to Real Madrid and we bought Thierry.
“At the start, Thierry was not sure that he could score goals but I made some exercises in training where I asked him to time the runs and his movement was exceptional.
“After that, whenever he played he knew the weaknesses of every defender after ten minutes of the game and always exploited that very well.”
ON FIRST ARSENAL IMPRESSIONS
“I inherited a team that was monoculturally English — tough guys you could go to a fight with.
“They were very good on the pitch and very good off the pitch at night and they were sceptical at first, because you don’t suppress the beers and wines without getting resistance.
“But when you needed men they were there and when I encouraged them to play out from the back, I discovered they were much better players than I thought at the start.
“And 1996 was a very sensitive time for me because I had nine players who were 30 or over and I knew at some stage I would have to tell these guys that it’s over.
“But in 1996 came the change of the TV money and that helped me a lot to change their style of life.
“Before 1996, they had not made much money. But from 30 to 35 years old they earned a good living.”
ON SIR ALEX FERGUSON
“The competition makes you hate the opponent. I think he certainly hated me and I hated him sometimes as well.
“Whenever we competed it was always a fight — always very tight and nervous.
“And don’t forget we also had to deal with Fergie time.
“But when the competition is over what remains is a deep respect for guys like him, for what they have achieved and how long they stayed in the job and dedicated their lives to it.”
ON PROJECT BIG PICTURE
“During my time in England the ownership moved from local people who are supporters of the team to multi-billionaires who have invested in the clubs.
“England has voted for Brexit to gain back control of their decisions — but in the Premier League you have lost control of these decisions.
“Only the Premier League and the big clubs can save the smaller teams and you have to find a compromise to help them survive or English football will drop.
“But I worry about the domination of the Premier League because that creates a lot of envy in France, in Spain, in Italy and in Germany and they won’t accept that for ever.
“They want to catch England back and Brexit will be a test for that.”
ON VAR TECHNOLOGY
“Before VAR, the number for correct decisions in England was 84 per cent.
“Now it’s 95 per cent. That’s 11,000 more good decisions a year.
“But VAR technology also kills the emotional aspect because you have to wait too long for offside decisions.
“So maybe we have to change the offside rule and allow more tolerance. It’s very difficult to cancel goals out because a player is half an inch in front of a defender.
“Then we also have to sort out the penalty problem because it’s not clear in people’s minds.
“Football is at its most popular when it’s easy to understand. When we no longer know what is a handball or not, we have to change something.”
ON JOB OFFERS
“I turned down every big club in Europe and did I stay at Arsenal too long? Maybe.
“Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and England all made me a job offer.
“Certainly, I do not know too many people who have twice turned down Real Madrid.
“But I chose to stay at Arsenal even though it was a team which didn’t have the resources to win the championship.
“When we moved to the Emirates in 2006, I knew that we wouldn’t be the same for the next ten years.
“We had overspent on the stadium and that meant we couldn’t spend the money that we had before.
“I had the choice to lead the club through that sensitive period — or to leave.
“I decided to serve Arsenal and try to be successful with less resources.”