LONDON (AP) — Arsene Wenger is leaving Arsenal after 22 seasons in charge against the backdrop of growing disillusionment from fans as the team struggles to compete for the Premier League title.
The 68-year-old Frenchman said Friday he will leave the London club at the end of the season, ending the tenure of English soccer’s longest-serving manager.
Wenger’s greatest achievement was becoming only the second manager to go through an English season unbeaten when Arsenal won its third Premier League title in 2004.
“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 for ever.”
Wenger, the most successful manager in Arsenal history since taking over in October 1996, has won the Premier League title three times but the last success was that remarkable season in 2004, when the team became known as the “Invincibles.”
Arsenal is sixth in the standings this season, with five games to go, and can only realistically qualify for the Champions League by winning the Europa League.
Wenger still had another season remaining on his contract but owner Stan Kroenke now has the task of hiring a manager for the first time at Arsenal.
“This is one of the most difficult days we have ever had in all our years in sport,” Kroenke said. “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.”
Arsenal said it will make an appointment “as soon as possible.”
“We have high ambitions to build on Arsene’s remarkable tenure and to honor his vision by ensuring that Arsenal competes for and wins the biggest and most important prizes in the game,” Kroenke said. “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.”