Arsene Wenger has announced that he will leave Arsenal at the end of the season, ending a near 22-year reign in charge of the London club.
The 68-year-old Frenchman leaves a year before the end of his current two-year contract.
Arsenal are sixth in the Premier League and in the semi-finals of the Europa League. Under Wenger, the London club won three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups, including the double in 1998 and 2002.
“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 in a statement.
Arsenal’s majority owner Stan Kroenke said the club would appoint a new manager as soon as possible.
“This is one of the most difficult days we have ever had in all our years in sport,” he said in a club statement under the headline “Merci Arsene.”
“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.”
Wenger was appointed on October 1, 1996 and is the Premier League’s current longest-serving manager.
In 2003-04, he became the first manager since 1888-89 to lead a team through an English top-flight season unbeaten.
He also oversaw the 2006 move from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium – the year Arsenal reached the Champions League final – while consistently finishing in the top four to play in the Champions League.
Wenger won his seventh FA Cup last season, beating Chelsea 2-1 at Wembley, but his side failed to reached the Champions League for the first time for 17 years, and there had been growing discontent among a faction of Arsenal supporters, who had been calling for Wenger to go.
Wenger could still go out with silverware as the Gunners take on Atletico Madrid bidding to reach this season’s Europa League final.
“I am grateful for having had the privilege to serve the club for so many memorable years,” Wenger said in his statement.
“I managed the club with full commitment and integrity.”
He added: “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.”
Kroenke said: “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.”
Wenger “has also transformed the identity of our club and of English football with his vision for how the game can be played,” he added.