Arsenal players "failed" Arsene Wenger, according to former skipper Per Mertesacker. In May, Wenger left his job as manager after nearly 22 years in charge, something Mertesacker has said "was the fault of us players.
Mertesacker, who was signed by Wenger in 2011 and won three FA Cups on the Frenchman's watch, described to German source Spox.com (h/t Naveen Ullal of Sport Witness) the day Wenger told players he was leaving.
Mertesacker said Wenger's decision "was very surprising for all of us." He also went into greater detail about why players had let the Frenchman down: "His departure was the fault of us players because we had many opportunities to get better results. We failed while he always stood in front of us."
Wenger's departure was a "deep regret" for Mertesacker, who spoke up during the meeting.
This isn't the first time Mertesacker has spoken out about the players' culpability in Wenger's departure. In April, he said more people than the manager bore responsibility, per Mark Irwin of The Sun.
Mertesacker, who is now manager of Arsenal's academy, spent his final season still officially in the senior squad, but he barely featured, making just six appearances in the Premier League and three starts in the UEFA Europa League.
As skipper, Mertesacker was in a position to ensure players tried harder, although there is more than a hint of truth in what he said.
Wenger's final few years in charge were marked by underachievement from a talented squad. While he captured a cup three times in his final five seasons, the 68-year-old's tenure ended with Arsenal missing out on UEFA Champions League football two seasons running.
Familiar defensive mistakes hounded his teams, while fan protests made it clear Wenger's reputation had declined in north London. Even so, he continued to defend his players publicly, no matter how bad results became.
A prime example came in February when club legend Ian Wright told The Debate on Sky Sports how Wenger's players weren't repaying his faith.
Even then Wenger continued to protect his misfiring stars, per Metro's Tom Olver: "Look, we have to live with that that's part of [the] modern game. ... Their job is to comment, so you must live with that."
Wenger regularly swatted away concerns about sulking star Alexis Sanchez before he joined Manchester United in January. He also frequently stood up for Mesut Ozil, a player often criticised for a perceived lack of effort.
Meanwhile, domestic prospects such as Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott struggled to fight off injury and achieve consistency when healthy.
While Wenger deserves credit for presenting a united front, there is a fair argument to be made that his positivity created a culture of non-accountability for his players. They were rarely punished for consistent mistakes and poor performances.
However, similar problems have persisted for successor Unai Emery, despite his more detailed approach to coaching. The Spaniard has had to answer questions about Ozil's application and continues to deal with lapses in defence.
While Emery needs time to change some things, a recurrence of familiar frailties under a new boss indicates Mertesacker is right to say Wenger was let down by the players.