Arsene Wenger Discusses Arsenal Exit, Club's Next Manager, Criticism and More

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2018

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 22:  Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal gives his team instructions during the Premier League match between Arsenal and West Ham United at Emirates Stadium on April 22, 2018 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Arsene Wenger believes he will leave Arsenal in a "very strong position" but felt division and criticism from the club's fans was "hurtful," as he discussed his decision to step down at the end of this season following 22 years in charge.

The Frenchman was speaking after his side beat West Ham United 4-1 at the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League on Sunday, thanks to goals from Nacho Monreal and Aaron Ramsey and an Alexandre Lacazette brace.

Wenger said he won't have a part in picking his successor, per Jake Polden of the Daily Mirror: "No. I always feel that the most important thing in a club is every who does the job. My job is take care of the results, the finances, the transfersthat's what I did."

While Wenger won't have a role in choosing the man to replace him, he has so far refused to explain why he has chosen to step down early, despite having one year remaining on his contract: "I made a statement. It's not the moment to come out on that. I will speak about that a bit later in my life."

Without further clarity from the man himself, speculation will continue as to whether Wenger jumped or was pushed.

Wenger said he made decisions for the good of the club and its fans.
Wenger said he made decisions for the good of the club and its fans.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

One thing the outgoing Gunners chief did make clear is how he harbours no resentment towards the supporters, despite protests aimed his way in recent years:

"I am happy when the fans are happy, I'm willing to suffer to make them happy."

"Every decision I've made in 22 years has been for the good of Arsenal. I believe I will leave a club which is in a very strong position."

However, Wenger pulled no punches when he referenced the division and anger common among the fanbase during recent years: "Our fans did not give the page of unity at the club I want, that was hurtful. The image we gave at the club was not what I want."

Wenger's announcement, made on Friday, was expected to get fans back onside, after weeks of apathy and vacant seats for home games. Yet rather than being a celebration with full attendance, there were still empty spaces for his penultimate match in charge at the Emirates, per ESPN FC's Mark Ogden:

When asked about his often testy relationship with Arsenal supporters in the last few years, Wenger said he didn't take any of the criticism personally. Yet he also bemoaned a lack of balance in how he has been judged:

"I don't need to die anymore...apart from a little sense of humour I would like to thank everybody who has been a bit nice to me. I certainly got more praise than I deserved. And maybe more criticism."

Wenger will likely remain a polarising figure to many associated with Arsenal. Some will remember him as a pioneering purist whose staunch commitment to attractive football transformed the Gunners' image as well as delivering a golden period of success from 1998 to 2006.

Wenger revealed he didn't always enjoy how he was perceived by fans.
Wenger revealed he didn't always enjoy how he was perceived by fans.Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

For many others, though, the 68-year-old will be viewed as a manager who lost his way and failed to move with the times. Those failings led to a barren period from 2005, with not even three FA Cup wins in the last four years enough to redeem Wenger in the eyes of many.

Overall, respect should be the prevailing theme for fans on both sides of the argument as the curtain starts to come down on the most significant reign in the club's history.

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