Arsenal football club has announced the unthinkable. Arsène Wenger will leave the club at the end of the season after 22 years in charge. This is not a drill.
The Frenchman, by far the Premier League’s longest-serving manager, leaves one year before his contract was due to expire.
Gunner fans have suffered this season, watching on as their side have toiled and failed to deliver in the league. Arsenal currently sit 6th in the log, only two points ahead of Burnley and teetering on mid-table mediocrity. Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Newcastle United was alarmingly their 11th of the season. Still, the widely-held prediction was that Wenger would at least see out his current contract – an extension awarded to him after his side beat London rivals Chelsea to capture the FA Cup at the end of last season.
“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, titled Merci Arsène, released by the club on Friday morning.
“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.”
While the timing of the announcement comes as a surprise, his departure has been demanded by huge swathes of supporters for years now. To the extent where #WengerOut – seen at events around the world – has become one of the biggest memes of the past two years.
There is no doubt of the impact Wenger has had on the club’s legacy. Soon after he arrived in August 1996, Wenger transformed the team into a side that would dominate English football, alongside Manchester United, for the next decade.
The “Invincibles” in particular, his 2003-04 team that went undefeated for an entire league season, are routinely heralded as the best in the Premier League era. In total, he guided the club to three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups.
The clubs majority owner, Stan Kroenke, himself no fan favourite, credited Wenger with taking the club to where it is today. “This is one of the most difficult days we have ever had in all our years in sport,” he said in the club’s statement. “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.”