London (AFP) – Arsene Wenger decided to bring his 22-year reign as manager to a close to unite the club’s frustrated fanbase, the Frenchman revealed after a 4-1 victory over West Ham was played out in a surprisingly subdued atmosphere at the Emirates on Sunday.
Wenger, 68, had come under growing pressure to go by supporters prior to making his decision public on Friday.
Arsenal have won three Premier League titles and a record seven FA Cups under Wenger, but haven’t won the league for 14 years.
The Gunners are on course for their worst-ever finish of Wenger’s reign in the Premier League as they languish in sixth, six points behind Chelsea, despite goals from Nacho Monreal, Aaron Ramsey and two late strikes from Alexandre Lacazette ensuring a comfortable victory over West Ham.
“The fans did not give me the image of unity I want all over the world and that was hurtful because I think the club is respected,” said Wenger.
“Overall, the image we gave is not what it is and not what I like.”
In his programme notes Wenger reiterated his plea for the fans to get behind the team for the rest of the season with Arsenal still in with a chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions League via the Europa League.
But there were only sporadic chants of “there’s only one Arsene Wenger” from the home support, whilst, continuing a trend in recent home games, empty seats could be seen around the Emirates.
“I’m not resentful,” added Wenger. “I just feel if my personality is in the way of what I think our club needs, for me that is more important than me.”
– Atletico await –
Wenger can still sign off leaving the club in the Champions League by winning the Europa League, where Arsenal host Spanish giants Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their semi-final on Thursday.
He named a strong side against West Ham with only Petr Cech, Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil missing from the expected XI to face Atletico in midweek.
However, amidst a surprisingly low-key atmosphere in the circumstances, the visitors’ greater need for the points shone through with a bright start.
Marko Arnautovic was denied from a narrow angle by David Ospina before Cheikhou Kouyate’s looping header came back off the top of the crossbar.
However, Arsenal appeared a different side after the break to the one that laboured in the first half and Monreal put them ahead on 51 minutes by guiding Granit Xhaka’s corner into the bottom corner to punish some awful West Ham marking.
West Ham manager David Moyes reacted by sending on Manuel Lanzini and Javier Hernandez from the bench and was rewarded almost instantly as the former’s cute through ball was smashed home by Arnautovic.
Joe Hart did his chances of making England’s World Cup squad no harm with stunning saves from Xhaka and Danny Welbeck.
However, he was caught flat-footed when Declan Rice ducked out the way of Aaron Ramsey’s cross eight minutes from time and the ball floated into the far corner.
“Up until 82 minutes we were looking well worthy of a point,” said Moyes.
“The young player makes a really poor mistake on the second goal. I hope he learns from it because he’s got big potential, but I think it really flattened the team.”
And Arsenal piled on more mistery for the Hammers as Lacazette twice fired home from close range in the final five minutes.
Defeat leaves West Ham still seven points above the relegation zone, but their chances of survival were boosted as Stoke failed to beat Burnley in a 1-1 draw to remain four points off safety.
Badou Ndiaye had given the hosts the lead in the Potteries, but Ashley Barnes’s leveller just after the hour mark means Paul Lambert’s men need to win at least two of their remaining three fixtures to have any chance of beating the drop.