It’s finally happening.
After more than 1,000 games over two-and-a-bit decades, Arsène Wenger has announced he will leave Arsenal Football Club at the end of the season.
There has been speculation about his future for each of the last few years, but the longest-serving manager in English football has confirmed his departure.
“I am grateful for having had the privilege to serve the club for so many memorable years,” Wenger said in a statement, which was posted on the Arsenal website with the headline ‘Merci Arsène’.
“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.”
The club has confirmed that Wenger will lead the club until the end of the season but “will make an appointment as soon as possible”.
Many of Europe’s top coaches have been linked with the post already this season and last, such as Juventus manager Max Allegri and former Borussia Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel, but Arsenal are unlikely to make an immediate official announcement on Wenger’s successor.
When Wenger took over from Bruce Rioch in 1996, he was nowhere near the household name he is today.
The Frenchman had left Japan’s Nagoya Grampus Eight to take over at Highbury, with Arsenal having finished outside the top three in each of the first four Premier League seasons, but under his tutelage it would be nearly a decade until they finished lower than third in the table.
This season has been a struggle, with Arsenal likely to end the campaign in sixth place, but he still has the chance to bow out with a Europa League victory.
Wenger guided Arsenal to the Champions League final in 2006, losing narrowly to Barcelona, but by far his most impressive achievement in North London was the third of his three Premier League titles.
That came in 2003/04, when Arsenal recorded 26 wins and 12 draws to end the Premier League season unbeaten, the only club to do so in the competition’s history.
He also oversaw a move to the Emirates Stadium, and managed to keep the club competitive with a run of 19 straight seasons in Europe’s top club competition.
Few have made as powerful an impact on English football, with Wenger changing how many footballers thought about nutrition and diet while also introducing an array of world-class footballers to the Premier League.
Thierry Henry, Robin van Persie and Cesc Fàbregas are just three of the players given their Premier League debuts by the Frenchman, whose run of more than 21 years at Arsenal is almost twice as long as any other manager in English football and nearly four times as long as the next-longest-serving manager at a current Premier League club.
And even when results dipped of late - last season was the first time during Wenger’s tenure that Arsenal finished below neighbours Tottenham in the league - he has continued to produce silverware in the form of FA Cup victories in 2014, 2015 and 2017.
Arsenal majority owner Stan Kroenke called today “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 Arsène has brought to the club on and off the pitch,” he said.
“His longevity and consistency over such a sustained period at the highest level of the game will never be matched.”
Put simply, Wenger’s departure will leave a huge hole which could take a very long time to fill.