Arsene Wenger was given a fitting farewell from fans and players after his last game in charge at the Emirates as Arsenal manager.
Tributes were paid to the outgoing Frenchman throughout Sunday’s Premier League 5-0 defeat of Burnley, starting with an appreciative guard of honour from both sets of players and ending with speeches and presentations on the pitch.
Queues outside the club’s The Armoury Store grew ahead of kick-off as fans stood in line to sign a book with farewell messages for the 68-year-old. Shirts inside the club store also displayed messages from the current squad.
A message from midfielder Granit Xhaka read: “A dream come true to play for you”, while Jack Wilshere wrote: “Like a father through tough times in my career.”
Wenger emerged shyly from the tunnel into the north London sunshine before waving to the capacity crowd as Gunners fans sang his name for one of the final times during his 22-year tenure.
Chants of “There’s only one Arsene Wenger” and “Arsene give us a wave” rang from the stands at regular intervals, while the majority of the 59,549 in attendance donned red t-shirts handed out by the club with the message ‘Merci Arsene’.
Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke was among those in attendance for the celebratory occasion, with a host of club greats, including Emmanuel Petit, Kanu Nwankwo, 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.
Wenger’s last Arsenal programme notes began by talking about the painful European defeat in Madrid, which confirmed his haul of major trophies with the club – three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups – would end at 10.
His former assistant Pat Rice and the club’s former goalkeeper Bob Wilson made a speech and awarded the 68-year-old with a commemorative gold Premier League trophy – awarded to the club after the unbeaten ‘Invincible’ title-winning season.
“He changed the face of football in this country,” Wilson said. “This is Arsene Wenger, the greatest manager we have ever had.”
In a moving speech on the pitch, Wenger said: “Thank you for having me for such a long time, I know that is not easy but above all I am like you – I am an Arsenal fan.
“I’d like to finish with one simple word – I will miss you. I hope to see you soon, well done, goodbye.”
Wenger added in separate interview: “It’s very emotional. I don’t want it to end it but unfortunately it has come to an end.
“It has been a big season of contrasts. It has not sunk in yet because I am still so focused and you are a bit robotic thinking about the next game.
“It will take me some time to reconnect myself and realise what I want to do.”
Wenger has two games remaining after Sunday’s farewell at the Emirates, with away games in the Premier League against Leicester City and Huddersfield still to play.