It was the most uncomfortable of his twenty-one seasons atArsenal, yet despite a sustained period of unprecedented fancalls for his removal, Arsene Wenger sat smiling in Sydney, still very much in charge of the Gunners ahead of his side’s pre-season tour down under and to China. His side duly despatched Sydney FC 2-0 and West Sydney Wanderers 3-1.

Next stop Shanghai and a penalty win over Bayern Munich with scores 1-1 at full time. Alex Iwboi’s level level was a brilliant injury time response. Now Beijing and Chelsea, before Arsenal return for Emirates Cup duty back in north London at the end of July, the preludes to Wenger’s new two-year contract extension. In 2019, we could then be at a definitive juncture to his time at Arsenal, but for now, Wenger was beaming alongside the FA Cup trophy his side claimed last May with that dramatic 2-1 win over Premier League champions Chelsea.

The two London sides meet again in China as well as in the Community Shield at Wembley in August, where the Gunnershave become accustomed to winning on the big stage.

After nineteen years of continuous participation however, the European big stage will not be Arsenal’s domain this season. They had to settle for a fifth place Premier League finish and Europa League football for the first time under Wenger whowas at least able to round off his challenging 2016-17 season with silverware, a record seventh FA Cup win which – for the present time – seems to have stemmed the flow of fan criticism towards the Frenchman.

Up close, it becomes evident just how much he hurts when his side loses or falls short of his expectations. Wenger describes Arsenal as “the club of my life,” and speaks of having had numerous offers to work elsewhere, but, that nothing will come between him and his love of life in London N5.

That much was evident following the 2-0 Premier League win over Manchester United in May, when a group of fansgathered outside the Emirates stadium main entrance. A black saloon pulled up and as it’s windows lowered, there was Wenger at the steering wheel.

He obliged every fan selfie, every autograph and even an impromptu interview in Japanese was no bother for Wenger. Moments earlier he had been in his post match press conference giving responses to media questions.

The Arsenal boss had to endure many “Wenger Out,” calls, the airplane banners proclaiming the same – but countered with a pro-Wenger banner over the skies at the Hawthorns in March, where he was forced to witness a defensive disaster class as West Bromwich Albion’s own aerial might sunk the Gunners 3-1 in what was a low in a season of many lows for the Arsenal faithful.

Add to that the 3-0 capitulation at Crystal Palace, the 2-1 home loss to Watford, the dismantling by Liverpool both home and away and that’s before we mention the twice 5-1 Champions League mauling by Bayern Munich.

Wenger has never criticised his players publicly, but the pain etched on his face in post match press conferences speaksvolumes of how his players had continually let him down. Following the 3-0 capitulation at Selhurst Park, captain for the night Theo Walcott announced that Palace “wanted it more.” It was a stunning admission, naive, but stunning also in that it summed up the Gunners’ negative mind-set where Wenger’s then unknown future hadn’t helped his players.

Arsenal recovered to win their next seven of eight Premier League matches, but the run proved to be too little too late in the pursuit of Champions League places.

The losses at Manchester City and Everton over the Christmas period were pivotal moments and proved to be turning points in Arsenal’s season Arsenal had led both games 1-0 and looked good for the win, but ultimately would suffer respective 2-1 losses. Wenger agreed that that after a strong start last season, the festive period failures at the Etihad stadium and Goodison Park were the turning points in their season, when their pursuit of a fourth Premier League title wouldultimately be derailed.

In a season of some notable lows, lets not forget some highs. How Arsenal brushed away Antonio Conte’s Chelsea 3-0 at the Emirates, a loss which saw the Italian coach to revert to a three-man defence.

While Chelsea became stronger with that formation, Arsenal went the other way suffering a 3-1 reverse at Stamford Bridge. That was until Wenger too successfully reverted to a three-man defence in late April, a tactic which would see himget the better of Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United 2-0 at the Emirates.

It appears that Wenger will keep that defensive re-jig , and in attack the summer signing of Alexandre Lacazette has gottenthe Arsenal faithful excited. They will wonder with somejustification however why during their Champions League campaigns, Arsenal seemed to be happy to make do with their squad, but dropping down to Europa League has seen Stan Kroenke finally find his cheque book?

Defender Sead Kolasinac has also joined Arsenal and all the indications are the Wenger hasn’t finished spending just yet.Monaco duo Kylian Mbappe and Thomas Lemar have been linked to joining Lacazette at the Emirates, while the future of Alexis Sanchez has seen Wenger dig his heels in over a move away.

Keeping Sanchez may come to define Wenger’s campaign, after all, what would be the point of bringing in the likes of Lacazette if it meant Sanchez departed? With Mesut Ozil also saying that he’d like to stay at the Emirates, the German has stressed the need for Arsenal to keep Sanchez who enters the final year of his contract amid strong interest from Manchester City and Bayern Munich.

Wenger was hurt with his former captain Tony Adams’ assertion that the Arsenal boss “couldn’t coach his way out of a paper bag.” Perhaps that was why he gave a rare non-answer when asked of the merits of having former charges Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp or Patrick Vieira on his coaching staff. Dissent unwelcome, but these Invincibles could help as new goalkeeping coach Jens Lehman will.

Arsenal appear to have finally gotten to grips with the reality of the economic spend required to keep pace at the top. Wenger will hope for a successful season, with a return to Champions League football, as well as a calmer season this time around.