Wenger leaving Arsenal after 22 years as manager

Arsene Wenger looks dejected on the sidelineIt once appeared as though he would rule over Arsenal forever, but Arsene Wenger’s 22-year tenure as manager of the north London club will come to an end at the end of the Premier League season. Wenger’s decision was announced Friday, much to the relief of fed up Arsenal fans who had been boycotting games and calling for his removal throughout most of the year. He will leave behind a complicated legacy with the club he transformed into one of the best in the world during his heyday.

Wenger joined Arsenal in 1996 with the club in disarray after issues with the previous two managers. He instituted a complete change in philosophy, including everything from tactics to diet to their home stadium, and he led Arsenal on a run of success unprecedented in the storied club’s history. Arsenal won the Premier League title in 1997-98, 2001-02, and 2003-04, and finished in the top two in eight of Wenger’s first nine seasons as manager. His brand of creative attacking play and his knack for making savvy transfer additions brought in talent like the legendary Thierry Henry, and Wenger’s Arsenal became the first London club to reach the Champions League final in 2006.

But the last dozen years of Wenger’s reign have not gone nearly as well as that first decade. Despite maintaining a top-four position in the Premier League table for most of that time - good enough to hold onto a Champions League spot - Wenger’s ideas and tactics had less and less of an impact as they became more commonplace around England, with most clubs now monitoring players’ nutrition and encouraging creativity on offense. His transfer signings were becoming more expensive and less effective, and Arsenal eventually tumbled out of their Champions League spot in 2016-17 with a fifth-place finish.

This season has been Wenger’s most tumultuous with Arsenal. Acclaimed striker Alexis Sanchez left the club in January, joining Manchester United on a transfer after refusing to sign a new contract with Arsenal, and large numbers of Arsenal fans were refusing to attend home matches in protest of Wenger’s continued employment. Calls for Wenger’s firing only grew louder as it became apparent Arsenal would finish outside the top four again, relegating the club to Europa League competition at best. In the end, it appears as though the financial impact of Arsenal’s diminishing international brand and local fan boycotts forced Wenger into a position where he had no choice but to step aside.

Arsenal marked the news of Wenger’s upcoming departure with a win on Sunday, defeating West Ham 4-1. It is not yet clear who the club is targeting to replace Wenger, and Wenger could continue his managerial career elsewhere since he hasn’t indicated any desire to retire. The only certainty is that for the first time in a long time, the futures of Wenger and Arsenal are not one and the same.