London – “I will miss you,” Arsene Wenger told the Arsenalfans after being given a fitting farewell in his final home game in charge after 22 years with a 5-0 thrashing of Burnley on Sunday.
On a day dominated by tributes to the Frenchman, both teams formed a guard of honour for Wenger, 68, before kick-off to a chorus of “there’s only one Arsene Wenger”.
All around a full house of 60,000 at the Emirates – in stark contrast to recent league games when fans have stayed away in protest at a poor season — fans sported red t-shirts emblazoned with “Merci Arsene” (Thank you Arsene).
“Thank you for having me for such a long time. I know that’s not easy but, above all, I am like you, I am an Arsenal fan,” Wenger said a post-match presentation on the Emirates turf.
“I would like to finish by one simple word: I will miss you. Thank you all for being such an important part of my life.”
Wenger won three Premier Leagues and a record seven FA Cups. His crowning glory coming in the 2003/04 season when Arsenal won the league without losing a single game.
He was presented with the special gold trophy given to the club for that achievement after the match by two Arsenal legends Bob Wilson and Pat Rice, who worked on Wenger’s coaching staff for many years.
That “Invincibles” season was his last as a Premier League winner, though, and fans became tired of Arsenal’s inability to compete for Premier League and Champions League titles.
“It means that even if they are not always happy, they still respected me and wanted to show at least I gave my total commitment to do well,” said Wenger of his ovation from the supporters.
However, there was plenty for the supporters to shout about in a fitting finale for Wenger as Arsenal displayed the attractive brand of attacking football that characterised his most successful sides over the past two decades.
“I have a certain idea of how to play football. My ambition was always to win with style,” added Wenger.
“At a big club I feel you have that responsiblity and for the supporters to have a special experience when they come to the club.”
Defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semi-finals on Thursday means Arsenal missed out on Champions League qualification for the second consecutive season.
But they bounced back in style to secure the small consolation of ensuring they will finish sixth in the Premier League ahead of Burnley.