Arsene Wenger is light entertainment since announcing his Arsenal exit – and that proves his time is really up

And after being handed a warm ovation from an Old Trafford crowd which once loathed him, the outgoing Arsenal boss was at it again.

Wag Wenger said: “Once you’re not a danger any more, everyone loves you.”

The Frenchman is perfecting his wry smile and self-deprecating humour — but there is no doubt he wants to carry on as a top-level manager.

For now, though, his farewell tour is settling into a familiar routine — kind words, good grace and smiles aplenty, then Arsenal throw away a decent result in the dying minutes.

There is a reason why he’s leaving, after all.


Wenger hasn’t been a serious threat to his rivals for over a decade now.

That’s part of the reason why he was handed such a classy reception here — with widespread applause from punters in the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand at the start of either half.


BEST OF ENEMIES Sir Alex Ferguson says Manchester United’s bitter rivalry with Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger ‘made the Premier League’


Before kick-off, Sir Alex Ferguson was lurking by the dugouts like the Ghost of Christmas Past.

It would have surprised no one had the great man presented Wenger with a dry-cleaning bill for the blazer Cesc Fabregas had splattered with tomato sauce during the Pizzagate rumpus of 2004.

Instead it was a silver vase, ‘The first time I’ve been given a trophy before kick-off’, joked Wenger.

Before the second half, United’s mascot, a cartoon Lucifer known as Fred the Red, shook Wenger’s hand.

Not all of the mascot fraternity have been so supportive.

Some are suspicious that, during the Wenger In-Wenger Out civil war, the bloke inside the Gunnersaurus costume remained conspicuously silent.

When Wenger handed in his team-sheet, weakened by eight changes in preparation for Thursday’s Europa League semi-final second leg, many feared another of the fearful shellackings he’s suffered on this patch in recent years.

As it happened, thanks to an equaliser from former United misfit Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Arsenal’s side — the youngest fielded by Wenger in the league since the 8-2 humiliation here in 2011 — almost earned a deserved point.

Most would have wanted Wenger to get a result against his bitter rival Jose Mourinho.

Few doubt that he’s the good guy in this long-running spat.

Mourinho has hurled the worst of the insults, even though Wenger got pushy at Stamford Bridge a couple of years ago.

And while Wenger’s teams have been responsible for some of the most attractive football ever seen in the Premier League, Mourinho is the sort of bloke you would fancy to park the bus when playing air hockey with his kids at the seaside.

He will never be regarded with the same affection as Wenger — but he already boasts more trophies.

Mourinho’s teams tend to find a way to win and Wenger has only ever overcome the Portuguese once in a league match.

This time, United prevailed by lumping it into the box to Belgian battering ram Marouane Fellaini.

The approach almost worked when he hit the post in the 89th minute and Marcus Rashford bundled in, only to be denied by an offside flag.

And it did succeed a minute later when the big man applied his magnificent barnet to Ashley Young’s cross. So Wenger was left with only three league wins here in 22 years.

When asked for a favourite Old Trafford memory, he mentioned the 2002 title win.

But Wenger added: “In this job, you remember defeats much better than victories, so I also have some painful memories here.”

Ferguson had praised Wenger in a heartfelt interview for the matchday programme.

He talked of an ‘edge’, a ‘feistiness’ and of simply ‘having to win’ those classic meetings during the great United-Arsenal duopoly between 1998 and 2004.

It was all a reminder that while Mourinho was Wenger’s nastiest rival, his duels with Ferguson defined him.

Ferguson was hardly exaggerating when he said their rivalry had “made the Premier League”.

Since retiring in 2013, Ferguson has successfully reinvented himself as an amiable uncle, turning up at weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and even the leaving dos of journalists.

Mourinho said it was his idea that Ferguson should present Wenger with his memento — and the three men who between them have won 19 of 27 Premier League titles — briefly posed together.

During the match, Arsenal’s fans sang of “Forty-nine undefeated” and “Winning the league in Manchester” — but Wenger’s greatest hits are all in the past.

When his team threw away a decent result, just as they had in the 1-1 home draw with Atletico Madrid three days
earlier, Old Trafford launched into a cheeky chorus of ‘Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay!’

Then Mourinho insisted he hoped to face the Frenchman again one day.

Further proof, if any were needed, that Wenger’s dangerous days are behind him.

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