“I will miss you” Arsene Wenger told the Arsenal fans after being given a fitting farewell in his final home game in charge after 22 years with a 5-0 thrashing of Burnley on Sunday.
On a day dominated by tributes to the Frenchman, both teams formed a guard of honour for Wenger, 68, before kick-off to a chorus of “there’s only one Arsene Wenger”.
All around a full house of 60,000 at the Emirates — in stark contrast to recent league games when fans have stayed away in protest at a poor season — fans sported red t-shirts emblazoned with “Merci Arsene” (Thank you Arsene).
“Thank you for having me for such a long time. I know that’s not easy but, above all, I am like you, I am an Arsenal fan,” Wenger said a post-match presentation on the Emirates turf.
“I would like to finish by one simple word: I will miss you. Thank you all for being such an important part of my life.”
Before the game in his final programme notes, Wenger said he expected to be saddened by the occasion.
“I expect today will be dominated by sadness,” he wrote. “It’s the end of a long story for me at Arsenal. But I will also feel grateful for having led this club – that I cherish so much – for such a long time.”
Wenger won three Premier Leagues and a record seven FA Cups. His crowning glory coming in the 2003/04 season when Arsenal won the league without losing a single game.
He was presented with the special gold trophy given to the club for that achievement after the match by two Arsenal legends Bob Wilson and Pat Rice, who worked on Wenger’s coaching staff for many years.
That “Invincibles” season was his last as a Premier League winner, though, and fans became tired of Arsenal’s inability to compete for Premier League and Champions League titles.
– Fitting finale –
However, there was plenty for the supporters to shout about in a fitting finale for Wenger as Arsenal displayed the attractive brand of attacking football that characterised his most successful sides over the past two decades.
Defeat to Atletico Madrid in the Europa League semi-finals on Thursday means Arsenal missed out on Champions League qualification for the second consecutive season.
But they bounced back in style to secure the small consolation of ensuring they will finish sixth in the Premier League ahead of Burnley.
Wenger will wonder what might have been had Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang not been cup-tied for the latter stages of the Europa League as the Gabon striker took his tally to eight goals in 11 Premier League appearances since joining for a club record fee from Borussia Dortmund in January.
Aubameyang opened the scoring when he slid in to meet Alexandre Lacazette’s cross to get a party atmosphere started after just 14 minutes.
Burnley have qualified for Europe for the first time in 51 years thanks to finishing seventh.
But it seemed incredible that only three points separated the sides before kick-off as Arsenal cut through the clarets at will going forward.
Lacazette stroked home Arsenal’s second just before half-time before Jack Wilshere teed up Sead Kolasinac for a third nine minutes after the break.
Aubameyang turned provider for Alex Iwobi to smash home the fourth after being given a huge amount of time inside the Burnley box to pick his spot.
And Aubameyang finished as he started by steering home Hector Bellerin’s cross to round off a five-star performance by the Gunners to send-off Wenger in style.
Wenger could even afford the luxury of also handing club captain Per Mertesacker an outing from the bench for the closing stages in his final home game before retiring at the end of the season.