'My love and support forever' - Arsene Wenger to step down as manager of Arsenal after 22 years
Arsene Wenger has announced he will leave Arsenal at the end of the season after almost 22 years in the role.
The 68-year-old's position has come under intense scrutiny over the past 18 months due to repeated failings in the Premier League and Champions League.
The Frenchman has lifted the FA Cup in three of the last four seasons but that has not been enough to appease some supporters and Wenger, whose side are set to compete against Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semi-finals next week, confirmed his decision to step down on Friday morning.
"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," a statement released on the club's website read.
"I am grateful for having had the privilege to serve the club for so many memorable years."
He continued: "I managed the club with full commitment and integrity.
"I want to thank the staff, the players, the directors and the fans who make this club so special.
"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 has won three Premier League titles during his spell of over 21 years at the helm, the last of which came as a result of the unbeaten 'Invincibles' season in 2003/04.
No-one has won more FA Cups than the former Monaco boss, who was a shock appointment back in 1996.
Protests against his reign picked up last season as the Gunners finished outside of the top four for the first time in a full campaign under Wenger's control.
But despite the growing negativity, Wenger signed a new two-year deal last summer with the mandate of sustaining a title challenge.
That failed miserably and, at the time of the announcement, Arsenal sit sixth in the table and 33 points adrift of newly crowned champions Manchester City.
The Europa League offers a chance of a final piece of silverware for Wenger, with majority shareholder Stan Kroenke hailing the "unparalleled class" of the outgoing boss.
"This is one of the most difficult days we have ever had in all our years in sport," he told arsenal.com. "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. Three Premier League titles, including an entire season unbeaten, seven FA Cup triumphs and 20 successive years in the Champions League is an exceptional record.
"He has also transformed the identity of our club and of English football with his vision for how the game can be played."
Former Arsenal defender Nigel Winterburn believes the decision is the right one.
"I think it's run its natural course," he told Sky Sports News. "Arsene Wenger has been absolutely amazing for Arsenal Football Club.
"It probably feels to me like it is the right time. When Arsene Wenger does step down, I think he will be remembered very, very fondly. We talk about the modern era, George Graham started it and Arsene Wenger's taken it to the next level.
"When he leaves the football club, I think people will look back and really appreciate what Arsene Wenger has done."
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was "surprised" by the announcement of "outstanding personality" Wenger's imminent departure, and says the Premier League will be "different without him".
The German, speaking at his pre-match press conference on Friday, said: "I was surprised.
"It is his decision and we have to respect that. He was and is still an influencer in football. He's had a fantastic career, an outstanding personality and very successful.
"Maybe in the last few months not everyone was happy, but he was the dominating guy in the mid-90s/2000s. He was always a big role model and it will be different without him."
Cardiff boss Neil Warnock hailed Wenger as having "changed the whole face of the game", and said he was glad he was going for the Frenchman's sake.
"He's the man who changed the whole face of the game," Warnock said at his Friday press conference. "We owe him so much, yet have given him so much stick. In a way I'm glad he's going, I wouldn't want to see him get any more vitriol than he's had."
Former Arsenal captain Tony Adams posted on Instagram: "Thanks for everything Arsene. Move over Herbert, Arsene Wenger the greatest Arsenal Manager."
Spain and Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas, who burst in to the Arsenal starting line-up under Wenger, posted on Instagram: "Wow. I never expected that but it shows the great dignity and class of the man. I will never forget his guidance and support, his tutelage and mentorship.
He added: "He had faith in me from day one and I owe him a lot, he was like a father figure to me who always pushed me to be the best. Arsene, you deserve all the respect and happiness in the world. #classact"