Nigel Winterburn believes Arsene Wenger’s “obsession” with returning Arsenal back to the peak of English football was the reason the Frenchman now regrets staying at the club for so long.
Wenger left at the end of last season following a spell of nearly 22 years at the helm, in which time he won three Premier League titles and a record seven FA Cups.
But title challenges and Champions League football went missing towards the end of his tenure, as did the unequivocal support of the Arsenal fanbase.
For the first time since his departure, Wenger has conceded he may have made an error by outstaying his welcome in north London.
When asked by French radio network RTL what the biggest mistake of his career has been, Wenger replied: “Perhaps staying at the same club for 22 years.
“I am someone who likes to move around a lot, but I also like a challenge. I’ve been a prisoner of my own challenge at times.”
Winterburn, who was at Arsenal when Wenger arrived in 1996 and would go on to win the Premier League under his stewardship, feels that challenge is what may have kept his former boss in the position for such a lengthy spell.
“He had a burning desire in his first period, from 1996 to 2006 – I can’t see any player or supporter not being in awe of what Arsene Wenger was doing,” he said.
“After that, when we moved to the new stadium, he had this obsession of trying to get Arsenal back to where he believed they should be and maybe he is talking about that period.
“In his own mind he felt he was still capable of producing the teams that would go on and bring titles back.
“There were almost two different periods for Arsene Wenger and it was certainly a different period when he came into the new stadium.”
Arsenal appointed Unai Emery as Wenger’s successor, albeit in the role of head coach, and have been busy in the summer transfer market – landing no fewer than five new faces.
Emery’s first competitive game in charge of the Gunners will be against reigning champions Manchester City on the opening weekend of the new Premier League season.