Arsene Wenger has announced he will leave Arsenal at the end of the season after almost 22 years in the role.
The 68-year-old’s position has come under intense scrutiny over the past 18 months due to repeated failings in the Premier League and Champions League.
The Frenchman has lifted the FA Cup in three of the last four seasons but that has not been enough to appease some supporters and Wenger, whose side are set to compete against Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semi-finals next week, confirmed his decision to step down on Friday morning.
“After careful consideration and following discussions with the club, I feel it is the right time for me to step down at the end of the season,” a statement released on the club’s website read.
READ MORE: Arsene Wenger to leave Arsenal: A 22-year career in photos
“I am grateful for having had the privilege to serve the club for so many memorable years.”
He continued: “I managed the club with full commitment and integrity.
“I want to thank the staff, the players, the directors and the fans who make this club so special.
To the man who gave me my chance as a 16 year old, and showed unbeliveable faith and commitment towards me. Always a gentleman, like a father through tough times in my career. He always believed in me when most people didn't. Thank you for everything boss! It's down to us no… pic.twitter.com/wTmjTSYwNx
— Jack Wilshere (@JackWilshere) April 20, 2018
“I urge our fans to stand behind the team to finish on a high. To all the Arsenal lovers, take care of the values of the club. My love and support for ever.”
Wenger has won three Premier League titles during his spell of over 21 years at the helm, the last of which came as a result of the unbeaten ‘Invincibles’ season in 2003/04.
No-one has won more FA Cups than the former Monaco boss, who was a shock appointment back in 1996.
Protests against his reign picked up last season as the Gunners finished outside of the top four for the first time in a full campaign under Wenger’s control.
But despite the growing negativity, Wenger signed a new two-year deal last summer with the mandate of sustaining a title challenge.
Cesc Fabregas' message to Arsene Wenger. pic.twitter.com/SrguOPD36I
— ArsenalFanTV (@ArsenalFanTV) April 20, 2018
That failed miserably and, at the time of the announcement, Arsenal sit sixth in the table and 33 points adrift of newly crowned champions Manchester City.
The Europa League offers a chance of a final piece of silverware for Wenger, with majority shareholder Stan Kroenke hailing the “unparalleled class” of the outgoing boss.
“This is one of the most difficult days we have ever had in all our years in sport,” he told arsenal.com. “One of the main reasons we got involved with Arsenal was because of what Arsene has brought to the club on and off the pitch.
READ MORE: Arsene Wenger: season-by-season at Arsenal
“His longevity and consistency over such a sustained period at the highest level of the game will never be matched.
“Arsene has unparalleled class and we will always be grateful to him. Everyone who loves Arsenal and everyone who loves football owes him a debt of gratitude. Three Premier League titles,
including an entire season unbeaten, seven FA Cup triumphs and 20 successive years in the Champions League is an exceptional record.
49 #PL games unbeaten
Top-flight record broken ✅
— Premier League (@premierleague) April 20, 2018
“He has also transformed the identity of our club and of English football with his vision for how the game can be played.”
Former Arsenal defender Nigel Winterburn believes the decision is the right one.
“I think it’s run its natural course,” he told Sky Sports News. “Arsene Wenger has been absolutely amazing for Arsenal Football Club.
“It probably feels to me like it is the right time. When Arsene Wenger does step down, I think he will be remembered very, very fondly. We talk about the modern era, George Graham started it and Arsene Wenger’s taken it to the next level.
“When he leaves the football club, I think people will look back and really appreciate what Arsene Wenger has done.”
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was “surprised” by the announcement of “outstanding personality” Wenger’s imminent departure, and says the Premier League will be “different without him”.
The German, speaking at his pre-match press conference on Friday, said: “I was surprised.
Arsene Wenger is to leave @Arsenal at the end of the season. He has given much of his life to Arsenal. He has brought much success to the club. He has given much to the game of football in our country. Merci et bonne chance, Monsieur Wenger. #Wenger
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) April 20, 2018
“It is his decision and we have to respect that. He was and is still an influencer in football. He’s had a fantastic career, an outstanding personality and very successful.
“Maybe in the last few months not everyone was happy, but he was the dominating guy in the mid-90s/2000s. He was always a big role model and it will be different without him.”
Cardiff boss Neil Warnock hailed Wenger as having “changed the whole face of the game”, and said he was glad he was going for the Frenchman’s sake.
“He’s the man who changed the whole face of the game,” Warnock said at his Friday press conference. “We owe him so much, yet have given him so much stick. In a way I’m glad he’s going, I wouldn’t want to see him get any more vitriol than he’s had.”
Former Arsenal captain Tony Adams posted on Instagram: “Thanks for everything Arsene. Move over Herbert, Arsene Wenger the greatest Arsenal Manager.”
Spain and Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas, who burst in to the Arsenal starting line-up under Wenger, posted on Instagram: “Wow. I never expected that but it shows the great dignity and class of the man. I will never forget his guidance and support, his tutelage and mentorship.
He added: “He had faith in me from day one and I owe him a lot, he was like a father figure to me who always pushed me to be the best. Arsene, you deserve all the respect and happiness in the world. #classact”
Former Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman, Wenger’s number one for the first seven years of his reign, was pleased to see Wenger leaving on his own terms.
Seaman told talkSPORT: “It’s going to be good now, because there’s going to be a chance he will get the send-off and the respect he deserves. The fans that are celebrating like they’ve won the lottery, it makes me a little bit angry if I’m honest. It’s time to show respect and realise what he’s done.
“For me, he is Arsenal, and it’s right that he’s decided to leave on his own terms.
“Now let’s enjoy that. I hope all the fans that have stayed away now return because they’ve still got a chance of winning something this season. Get behind the team, get behind Arsenal, and show him the respect he deserves.
“He’s a gentleman. It’s brilliant to be in his company. He’s a really, really nice guy – and a lot of people don’t see that. People say he’s stubborn and this and that, but that’s not true. It might have been true as a manager, but as a man he’s a true gentleman.
“When he came in he changed everything – the way we played, the diet… He revolutionised Arsenal. He was brilliant. For me, and especially for the back four – he added years to their careers.”
Southampton manager Mark Hughes believed it would be a “massive wrench” for Wenger to leave after so long in the post.
“When you have had longevity in the game like Arsene has, and I have been in the Premier League for a long time, our paths have crossed on numerous occasions, we had a few run-ins but other times we were very civil and respectful of each other’s efforts,” the Welshman said.
“I had a good conversation with him two weeks ago, he looked very relaxed and chilled.
— Premier League (@premierleague) April 20, 2018
“He came with different ideas, different views on how the game should be played, he moved the goalposts for everyone else, he came in and had success and everyone else had to catch up.”
Former Arsenal players David Seaman and Sol Campbell were among those to share their reactions on Twitter to the news of Wenger’s departure.
Seaman called it a “sad day”, and asked “can we now give him the send off/respect he deserves?!! #rememberthetrophies”.
Campbell, who Wenger signed from fierce rivals Tottenham, simply tweeted: “Wow!”
Ian Wright appeared to have been aware of the news before it was announced, tweeting a shocked face emoji around half an hour before the club’s statement.
Celtic majority shareholder Dermot Desmond admitted he would let manager Brendan Rodgers speak to Arsenal if the Premier League club approached the Northern Irishman.
Desmond told Sky Sports News: “Absolutely. I don’t think you can put handcuffs on anybody if they want to go to a club as good as Arsenal.
“It will be Brendan’s decision and Brendan’s decision only.”
PLAY NOW: Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal career
READ MORE: Arsene Wenger’s all-time Arsenal XI
Former Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson has urged fans to get behind the Frenchman for the rest of the season, starting with Sunday’s home match against West Ham.
Merson told Sky Sports News: “I think everybody can pay their respect to him now about how great he was as a manager. It’s perfect timing.
“I think it gives the fans (the chance) to pack the Emirates for the last few games of the season and have a right go.
“If fans do not turn up against West Ham and pack that place out, they need serious questions asked about them and are they real Arsenal fans or are they glory-hunters?”
Merson called for the Emirates Stadium to be renamed in Wenger’s honour.
“They should drop the Emirates bit – they don’t need the money – and name it the Arsene Wenger Stadium,” the 50-year-old said. “That’s his stadium. He built that. He made that stadium. Even if they called it the Emirates Arsene Wenger Stadium. He deserves to be on that.”
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) April 20, 2018