Arsene Wenger says goodbye to Arsenal fans: 'I will miss you'
Arsene Wenger reflected on "a very sad day" after he oversaw his final home game as Arsenal manager but insisted that his successor inherits a team that isn't far from challenging from the Premier League title.
Arsenal blew away Burnley 5-0 on Sunday at the Emirates to send Wenger off in style, before the manager was given serenaded by the crowd after the final whistle.
The Frenchman, who is stepping down after his 22nd season in charge, was presented with the special gold trophy the team was given by the Premier League to commemorate the 2003-04 "Invincibles" season, while the crowd chanted his name.
It was an emotional farewell to the man who is widely considered Arsenal's greatest manager but who found himself the target of increased fan animosity in recent years.
"Thank you for having me for such a long time. I know that's not easy," he said in an address to the crowd. "Above all I am like you: I am an Arsenal fan. That means this is more than just watching football, it's a way of life. It is caring about the beautiful game, about the values that we cherish.
"I would like to thank everybody at the club who makes this club so special. I would invite you to really push to support the players and the staff who will remain behind me.
"For me these football players have a special quality, not only on the pitch but off the pitch. Please follow this team and support them next season because they deserve it.
"I would like to finish by saying I will miss you. Thank you all for being such an important part of my life. I hope to see you soon. Well done. Bye bye."
Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke was among those in attendance for the celebratory occasion, which showed glimpses of the free-flowing, attractive football of Wenger sides of old, with a host of club greats, including Emmanuel Petit, Bob Wilson and Martin Keown, joining him.
It was Wenger's 606th home game in charge of the Gunners, a run which began on October 19, 1996, with a goalless draw against Coventry at Highbury, a decade before the Gunners moved to their current home.
And while he couldn't have asked for a better result, Wenger admitted he felt sad to say goodbye to a stadium that he helped the club build.
"It was a very sad day. Because I came here to make the first photos [when the Emirates was built], then the lorries came in with a deposit for the rubbish," he said in his postgame news conference. "So this stadium, I've seen every single part worked on, from the press conference room to the technical area. So of course it's part of myself. But as well, it's a day when the people behind me can work in good conditions. And I'm quite happy for that.
"[My successor] inherits a team that is much better than people think it is. You can see the togetherness that is in the team is special. And with the right additions this team will challenge next year."
Wenger was also given a guard of honour by both teams before the game and was serenaded with chants of "One Arsene Wenger" throughout the game -- even from the away section in the second half.
The stadium was nearly full for once and Arsenal gave commemorative red T-shirts with the text "Merci Arsene" to all fans in attendance, while a number of former players joined the team pitchside after the game.
Wenger has previously admitted that the fan divisions about his future was part of the reason he is stepping down, but said he appreciated the affection he was shown on Sunday.
"It means that even if they were not always happy, they still respect me and wanted to show me that at least they think I gave my total commitment to do well," Wenger said. "And that is of course how I see it, and how I take it. They know that my commitment was genuine, total, with complete integrity. So I take it of course as a big compliment."
But he also acknowledged that he hasn't quite allowed all the feeling to sink in as he nears the end of his reign.
"In my job you learn to disconnect from yourself and you don't analyse anymore how you feel. For 20 years I just felt, 'OK forget about you and just care about the problems you have to sort out.'
"I must honestly say, when you have such a long time in the job and people ask you how do you feel, you think, why does he ask me that? I don't know how I feel anyway. I have to learn to reconnect with myself now that I have a bit more time.
"It is a story that ends, and I can see it in one way: guys who manage 22 years a club of that stature, you don't have many. So I can only say, 'my friend, you have been very lucky.' ... And on the other hand I have to think: I will cherish every minute I was here, but as well it's a new start for me."
Information from Press Association was used in this report.
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.