Arsene Wenger has announced that he will leave Arsenal at the end of the season, ending his 22-year career as the current longest-serving manager in the Premier League.
In what was a shock announcement on Friday morning ahead of this weekend’s Premier League clash with West Ham, Wenger confirmed that he will leave the club.
“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,” Wenger said in a statement.
“I am grateful for having had the privilege to serve the club for so many memorable years.
“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.
“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.”
Arsenal’s majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, paid tribute to Wenger and hailed his influence on the club, with the American billionaire admitting that he hopes to build on the Frenchman’s legacy.
“This is one of the most difficult days we have ever had in all our years in sport,” Kroenke said. “One of the main reasons we got involved with Arsenal was because of what Arsène has brought to the club on and off the pitch. His longevity and consistency over such a sustained period at the highest level of the game will never be matched.
“Arsène 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. He has also transformed the identity of our club and of English football with his vision for how the game can be played.
“We have high ambitions to build on Arsène’s remarkable tenure and to honour his vision by ensuring that Arsenal competes for and wins the biggest and most important prizes in the game.
“We must now focus on making a strong finish to the season and ask our millions of fans around the world to join us in paying appropriate tribute to one of the greats of Arsenal’s history and one of the greats of the game.”
The club also announced that they will “make an appointment as soon as possible”, but will not speak on the matter until that time comes.
The timing of the announcement immediately raised eyebrows, with Wenger holding his weekly press conference on Thursday without making any reference towards his imminent departure.
It also comes just six days before what could be Arsenal’s biggest game of the season, with the Gunners due to face Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semi-final first leg. With Arsenal currently on course to miss out on the top four – falling 14 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham with 15 points left to play for – winning the Europa League looks to be Arsenal’s only hope of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
That’s why the announcement, which comes a month before the Europa League final and the end of the Premier League campaign, could be a deliberate attempt from Wenger to try and end the fan protests against him and the players and unify the club in the hope of a successful end to his tenure.
Wenger arrived at Arsenal in 1996 to replace the sacked Bruce Rioch, and is widely regarded as a revolutionary figure in British football as he introduced new training ideas, dietary requirements and a style of football that captured the imagination of fans across the globe – and not just of Arsenal.
He won three Premier League titles while at the helm of the north London club, the last of which came as a result of the unbeaten 'Invincibles' season in 2003/04. He will also leave the club as the most successful manager in history in the FA Cup, with the former Monaco boss winning the prestigious trophy no fewer than seven times – the most recent of which came last season as the third success in four years.
But despite the return of silverware to the club after nine trophy-less seasons, protests against Wenger’s reign started to emerge among supporters who felt that change was needed at the club. Despite this, Wenger signed a new two-year contract last summer, but this year’s failure in the Premier League has seen the manager himself decide that the time is right to leave.
At the time of the announcement, Arsenal sit sixth in the table and 33 points adrift of newly crowned champions Manchester City.