STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Some Arsenal fans may be calling for his head but Arsene Wenger is still the man for the Emirates, former Arsenal midfielder Kim Kallstrom has told Reuters ahead of the Londoners’ Premier League clash with Manchester City on Sunday.
Arsenal are sixth, seven points behind fourth-placed City, and badly need a win if they are to stake a claim for a place in next season’s Champions League.
Kallstrom and goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson -- who once played between the sticks for City -- have both returned to Stockholm club Djurgarden as they wind down their careers.
“He (Wenger) is under a bit of pressure at the moment, but within the walls of Arsenal he’s still the man,” Kallstrom said as the pair were interviewed ahead of their first game of the Allsvenskan season on Monday, against newcomers Sirius.
Having spent half a season under the 67-year-old at Arsenal, Kallstrom, who spoke to Wenger in French during his time there, clearly has enormous respect for him.
“What is most impressive about him is how he is around the club. Everyone calls him ‘boss’ - it was impressive. You felt that he was Arsenal, that no-one made a decision without the boss approving it,” the 34-year-old said.
Asked if and when Wenger would be forced out of the club where he has spent over 20 years, the Swede declined to speculate.
“Impossible to say. It depends on how the end of the season goes, but given how Chelsea look, it’s unlikely that they’ll win anything,” he said.
Kallstrom and Isaksson, who have long been close friends off the pitch and shared a room when playing for Sweden’s national side, both made their names with Djurgarden before departing for French side Rennes in 2004.
They left in 2006, Kallstrom going to Olympique Lyon for six years while Isaksson spent a two-year spell at City where the pace of the English game made a lasting impression on him.
“It’s the intensity. Every game is full-on. In other leagues I’ve played in some games are at a slower pace, but in England it’s full-on the whole time,” Isaksson explained.
The 35-year-old goalkeeper was at City as their fortunes started to improve, but he says the difference between the team he played for and the one that eventually became champions in 2012 and 2014 was an obvious one.
“It’s the money. Football is steered a lot by money, for better or worse,” Isaksson said. “They would never have made that journey if they hadn’t had the kind of financiers who came into the club. It might sound tough but it’s true.” he added.
Kallstrom agrees, although he says it’s not just buying players that has made the difference.
“At the same time you need competent people, and I think they’ve done that well. City, Chelsea - they’ve got a huge injection of capital, but they have also invested in infrastructure and the organisation, brought in good people,” he said.
Now in the twilight years of their careers, the pair are back together - and not ready to hang up their boots just yet.
“One hopes that it’s positive that we finish our careers here and not in Denmark or somewhere else,” Kallstrom says.
“In my little world that feels positive, and it’s about having a little gas left in the tank - but it’s going to be tough. There’s a lot of good players and teams in the Allsvenskan,” he said.
For Isaksson, the final few years are about helping younger players coming through.
“It’s good for them that we come here with a little experience that they can learn from,” the 35-year-old said. “We have to still have the fire for it.”
Reporting by Haidar Hajdari, writing by Philip O'Connor,; Editing by Neville Dalton