Arsene Wenger has told talkSPORT he loved Highbury so much he would take a detour on his drive home just to see the ‘special stadium’.
But he has also explained why he ‘pushed’ Arsenal to leave their beloved home for the Emirates Stadium in 2006.
The legendary former Gunners boss joined talkSPORT host Jim White and Gunners legend Martin Keown on Friday for a very special interview, on the anniversary of Arsenal’s final game at Highbury 14 years ago.
Arsene Wenger steered Arsenal to three Premier League titles during their Highbury days, but silverware dried up following their exit to the Emirates Stadium[/caption]
The Arsenal Stadium, as it was officially known, was home to the north London club for 93 years, from 1913 until 2006, when it was partly demolished and redeveloped as the Highbury Square apartment complex.
Despite the renovation, Highbury remains the spiritual home of Arsenal that still has a place in the hearts of fans, and of Wenger, who has admitted in the past the club ‘left its soul’ there.
And the Frenchman has spoken fondly about the ‘magic’ of the old stadium and it’s connection it afforded between the players and fans, which he claims modern stadiums just cannot replicate.
He told talkSPORT: “I can’t believe it [has been so long] but I have to, I have to face the reality!
“There was a soul, something special, when you came down the road and arrived at Highbury.
“I loved Highbury a lot. You know, sometimes when I was in the area on my way home, I’d have to drive through Highbury, because it’s a special place. And I believe that everybody who has been there inside would share that.
“Even the dressing room, you could open the windows! I remember Ian Wright would open the windows and say things to the supporters outside. Today, there are no windows in any dressing room.
“The link was there between the supporters and the players, it was a special atmosphere. When the players got off the coach, the fans were there. Now when you arrive at stadiums you go underneath and you’re isolated.”
Despite his love for the old ground, Wenger had a vision that Arsenal needed to move to a new modern stadium, bigger and better, for the good of the club’s future.
Leaving Highbury was a sad moment for the club, one that was only made harder by the barren years that followed their move to the Emirates Stadium.
But Wenger said it was necessary, and revealed he has more pride to have been one of the driving forces behind the stadium more than anything else he achieved in his career – even Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ win.
“I was centrally involved in that, deeply involved in it, the whole technical part with the architects,” Wenger explained.
“At the time I pushed the club to do it because we had 38,000 people at Highbury and we could move to 60,000.
“But we never knew would we have enough supporters there, so financially it was a very difficult project.
“I would not start it again, believe me!
“My heart is still with the club. I think a lot about the club and a lot about the period. 22 years in my job is unusual!
“I’m proud. At the end of the day when you look back you don’t think about what you won and what you lost so much, but I’m proud for having the attitude just to serve the club as long as I was there.
“And I have more satisfaction today when I look back and I see the Emirates, we built all that without a penny from anybody and today the club can take off even more and be more successful.”
Wenger remains a huge fan of Arsenal, never missing a match.
He is eager to see them succeed and, just as importantly, wants to see an attractive style of play under Mikel Arteta that was synonymous with his reign.
“I worry about the club still a lot and I watch all of the games,” he said.
“I believe there is a culture in the way to play football at Arsenal that I want to be respected.
“And I hope Mikel can get that back.”
Listen back to Arsene Wenger’s brilliant interview on talkSPORT in full above!