Arsene Wenger, the architect of Arsenal’s success, stepping down after 21 years
Arsene Wenger is leaving Arsenal after more than 21 years, ending a revolutionary reign that saw him introduce new methods to the English Premier League and become the club’s most successful manager.
While the 68-year-old Frenchman was able to announce his own departure plans on Friday, the tenure of English soccer’s longest-serving manager will finish at the end of the season against a backdrop of mounting dissent as the London club’s competitiveness has waned.
Arsenal has failed to win the Premier League since 2004, the high point of Wenger’s career as he became only the second manager to go through an English league season unbeaten.
The “Invincibles” season, his third Premier League title, helped shield Wenger against criticism. But his power appeared to drain over the last year as executives trying to shape the future direction of the team were brought in.
The new two-year contract that Wenger signed after winning the FA Cup for a record seventh time last May will now not be completed.
“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. “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 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 forever.”
Wenger gathered his players on Friday morning to tell them he was leaving.
“It’s been emotional and there will be time to digest it, but it’s a sad feeling right now,” Arsenal captain Per Mertesacker said. “He’s the major figure for this club, more than 20 years, it’s been so impressive.”
Midfielder Jack Wilshere knows that better than most players after first entering the club academy 17 years ago.
“We didn’t see [his departure] coming because he had another year left on his contract,” the 26-year-old Wilshere said. “Ever since I’ve known about Arsenal, Arsene has been there.
“I’m sad. I’m a little bit disappointed that we couldn’t give him the season he wanted, but we’ve still got a chance to win something so he can leave on a high.”
Even though Arsenal is sixth in the Premier League, there can still be a successful conclusion to the season with the team in contention to win the Europa League.
“We need to win it for him really and get behind him in these last few games to give him the sendoff he deserves,” Wilshere said.
Arsenal’s appearance in Europe’s second-tier competition is a sign of its recent decline under Wenger. Arsenal became accustomed to qualifying for the Champions League before missing out for the first time in two decades after finishing fifth last season.
Winning the Europa League is now Arsenal’s only realistic way of Wenger bequeathing his successor a place next season in the more illustrious Champions League.
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