Arsene Wenger shocked Arsenal players on Friday after announcing that he will finally step down as manager at the end of the season after 22 years in charge.
The 68-year-old Frenchman, who joined Arsenal from Nagoya Grampus Eight all the way back in 1996, stunned players and staff by telling them about his departure completely out of the blue at the club’s London Colney training base. He introduced the sudden revelation by telling them ‘I have bad news’, before captain Per Mertesacker addressed his team-mates.
Wenger’s announcement also divided Arsenal fans, with many thanking him for his time in charge – while others posted messages saying good riddance
Sportsmail understands that the club are looking to Germany for Wenger’s replacement. Former Borussia Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel and Germany boss Joachim Low are among the frontrunners. However, the board are also understood to like Brendan Rodgers.
Wenger penned an emotional statement to Arsenal supporters on Friday morning as he announced his departure, offering them ‘my love and support for ever’.
Wenger dropped the bombshell ahead of Arsenal’s Premier League clash with West Ham at the Emirates on Sunday afternoon. There has been open unrest at the Emirates in recent years following the Frenchman’s failure to win the league title since 2004. He has however won 10 major trophies during his time in north London and will be remembered as the club’s greatest ever manager.
He told Arsenal’s official website: ‘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.
‘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.’
Sportsmail understands Arsenal’s shell-shocked players reacted to Wenger’s news by making a pact together to send him out in a blaze of glory by winning the Europa League. They face Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals, with the first-leg taking place at home next Thursday.
Wenger’s backroom staff, including the long-standing Gerry Peyton, Boro Primorac and Tony Colbert are expected to go. However, assistant manager Steve Bould could still be kept on.
Tuchel is the bookies’ favourite to take over from Wenger in the summer. The 44-year-old German is highly regarded internationally and is without a club after leaving Dortmund last year.
Arsenal’s links to Dortmund have grown strong in recent years with the German club’s former recruitment guru Sven Mislintat taking up a similar role at the Emirates last November. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was signed from Dortmund in January for £56million, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan is also a former Dortmund man.
Meanwhile, Arsenal majority shareholder Stan Kroenke described this as the ‘most difficult day we have ever had’.
The American said: ‘This is one of the most difficult days we have ever had in all our years in sport. 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. 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. 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 Arsene’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.’
Wenger has managed Arsenal to three Premier League titles, including winning the league at arch rivals Tottenham during their historic unbeaten season in 2003-04, and a record-breaking seven FA Cups during his spell in charge of the North London outfit.
The 68-year-old has endured a difficult time of late, with the fans growing increasingly frustrated with Arsenal falling further behind their Premier League rivals.
The Gunners missed out on Champions League qualification last year and look likely to once again this term, unless Wenger leads Arsenal to glory in the Europa League in Lyon at the end of the season.
The unrest has been clear to see, with vast numbers of the Gunners’ faithful staying away from the Emirates in recent months, with apathy ruling the fanbase.
Despite the sour ending to his time at Arsenal, Wenger has left a long-lasting legacy in north London, with many fans and former players, such as Cesc Fabregas, David Seaman, Tony Adams and Paul Merson, leading the tributes.
Even Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn weighed in, thanking Wenger for everything he has done for the Gunners.
Corbyn, whose 35 years as Islington North MP overlaps Wenger’s 22 years as Gunners manager, said: ‘This is a huge piece of news.
‘Thank you Arsene, for everything you’ve done for our club and for our community. You took the club to a higher plane. Your kindness to so many people in Islington has been inspirational. It has been a pleasure.
‘I’ve always been impressed by his courtesy, his incredible grasp of languages and his ability to relate to people at all levels.’
Spain and Chelsea midfielder 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. Class act’
Former Arsenal goalkeeper Seaman, Wenger’s No 1 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.’
Former Arsenal captain Tony Adams posted on Instagram that Wenger now deserves to be lauded as the club’s best ever manager ahead of Herbert Chapman: ‘Thanks for everything Arsene. Move over Herbert, Arsene Wenger the greatest Arsenal manager.’
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.
‘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.’
Furthermore, 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.’
Furthermore, Premier League chief Richard Scudamore also paid tribute to Wenger
‘It is hard to encapsulate the enormity of Arsene Wenger’s contribution to Arsenal Football Club, the Premier League and football generally over these past 22 seasons,’ Scudamore said.
‘All of Arsene’s teams have been a joy to watch and his 2003/04 ‘Invincibles’ will go down as one of the best in English football history.
‘His innovative coaching and player development methods transformed the English game just when it was needed most.
‘Arsene’s view on all aspects of the sport are always worth listening to, his generosity of time and consideration for others generating huge respect throughout the game.
‘Whatever the future holds for him, he deserves nothing less than our total gratitude and best wishes for his own personal happiness.’
Meanwhile, Arsenal fans were divided in their reactions to the news, with some hailing Wenger’s work at the club and wishing him well while others were still furious about him staying at the club beyond what they saw as his sell-by date.
The long ‘Wenger Out’ campaign has gained much publicity and has seen angry fans display placards displayed across the world – one was even seen at a demonstration against Donald Trump – and some disgruntled fans have claimed victory.
One fan, who goes by the pseudonym Yk on Twitter, said: ‘Halleluyah! Halleluyah!! Halleluyah!!! He’s leaving Wenger is leaving he’s finally leaving. thank You God … Thank You Jehovah #WengerOut’
Another, called Ish, said: ‘Friday can’t get better than this! #WengerOut’
A Twitter account called Thanks Arsene, for everything, had the following message posted: ‘Came back from school to find out that Arsene Wenger is set to leave us. I didn’t want him to go tbh. He is Arsenal. He made this team bigger but once in for his last few months I beg you all Wenger out fans just call it a day, you have to thank the man for everything he did…’
Another fan, JJ Omojuwa, said on Twitter: ‘Glad Arsene Wenger was allowed to depart on his own terms. He ‘stepped down.’ Not sacked or based on some so called ‘mutual agreement.’ He was allowed to decide the end.’
Austin Darbo summed up the conflict by voicing both delight that Wenger had left but also calling for the Frenchman to be given the finest send-off possible.
‘I could cry tears of joy right now,’ he wrote. ‘Thank you for the memories. Now lets win the Europa League and send him off with a bang.’
Lois Langton, chair of the Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association, believes the timing is right.
‘Without question, the announcement that Arsene Wenger will finally stand down at the end of this season is the right decision, both for the club and the manager, although, having been so long coming, it feels surreal that the day has finally arrived,’ she said.
‘The problems associated with his tenure in recent years are well documented and now that the announcement has been made, there is nothing to be gained by going over old ground.
‘Arsene Wenger was, for a period of time, a fantastic manager for Arsenal. The Invincibles epitomise what he brought to the Club and, to that extent, his legacy will continue.
‘We have seen with Manchester City this season how difficult it is to go a league campaign undefeated. The 2003/2004 season in particular will forever be a source of pride and achievement.’
She added: ‘It is now time to move on.’
The Arsenal Football Supporters Club’s Twitter account had the following statement: ‘If I get to meet Arsene Wenger on Sunday I will say to him that he has been a fantastic manager for the club and that the new manager has been left a club with all the resources and the platform to reach the top. And it will be mainly because of Him.’