London (AFP) – Arsene Wenger said he is looking forward to a fresh start despite his sadness at bidding farewell to Arsenal after 22 years in charge as manager.
Wenger was given a fitting send-off in his final home game at the Emirates on Sunday as Arsenal produced a devastating performance to thrash Burnley 5-0.
On a day dominated by tributes to the Frenchman, Wenger was greeted with a guard of honour before kick-off and presented with a special gold trophy originally given to the club for winning the Premier League without losing a game in 2003/04 under his guidance.
“This stadium I have worked on every single part from your press conference to the technical areas, so it is part of myself,” said Wenger, who was given a hero’s reception on a final lap of honour at full-time.
“I can say guys who managed 22 years in a club of that stature, there are not many.
“I have been lucky to have the comfort to work for such a long time in a club of that stature.
“On the other hand, I have to think, I will cherish every minute I had here, but as well it is a new start for me.”
Wenger, 68, hasn’t hidden his desire to continue working in some capacity next season, having also hinted his departure wasn’t entirely his own decision.
Despite winning three Premier League titles in his first decade in charge, many fans had become frustrated with the Gunners’ inability to challenge for the Premier League and Champions League in recent years.
Arsenal will finish this season in sixth, as low as they ever have in Wenger’s reign, and defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semi-finals means for a second straight season Wenger has failed to qualify Arsenal for the Champions League.
Nevertheless, there was rightly an atmosphere steeped in nostalgia for the great days Wenger has given the club on Sunday in a 60,000-capacity stadium he helped to deliver and design when the club moved from Highbury in 2006.
“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.
“That’s how I see it. They know my commitment was genuine, total, with complete integrity, it is of course a big compliment.”