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Sports

Wenger says divided fan base led to Arsenal departure

media French football coach Arsène Wenger will step down after 22 years at Arsenal at the end of the season. Reuters/John Sibley

French football coach Arsène Wenger says divisions among Arsenal fans were behind his reason to step down after 22 years, in the first remarks on his departure following the English football club's 4-1 home win over West Ham on Sunday.

Speaking for the first time since announcing he would step down at the end of the season, Wenger said he did not like what had become of Arsenal’s fan base in recent years.

“Personally I believe this club is respected all over the world, much more than in England,” Wenger said in post-match comments. “Overall, the image we gave is not what it is and not what I like.”

Empty seats and fan-made signs reading “Wenger out” had become commonplace at Arsenal matches as supporters became increasingly alienated with the Frenchman’s inability to match the standards he set in his first decade at the club.

“I’m not resentful and I don’t want to make stupid headlines,” Wenger said. “I just feel if my personality is in the way of what I think our club needs, for me that is more important than me.”

The 68-year-old guided the Gunners to three Premier League titles and a record seven FA Cups since his arrival in 1996.

But they haven’t won the title for 14 years, and despite the win over West Ham, they are on course for their worst-ever finish under Wenger, languishing six points behind Chelsea in sixth position.

But Wenger defended his record at the club, which he said was in better shape than it was when he arrived in 1996.

“I believe that I will leave a club who is in a very strong position on all fronts," he said. "And my target was always to do that and give an opportunity to the guy who comes in after me to do even better in the next 20 years.”

Chance for Champions League

Wenger refused to elaborate on the timing of his announced departure, fuelling speculation that he bowed to pressure from the club’s board.

“It’s not a moment to come out on that,” he said. “I’d like to focus, to keep the priorities right until the end of the season and focus on how well I can do until the end. And I will speak about that a bit later in my life.”

Wenger could theoretically leave after having put the club back in the Champions League if Arsenal wins the Europa League, the first test coming Thursday when Arsenal hosts Atletico Madrid in the first leg semi-final.

But much talk at the moment is on the coach’s legacy and future.

David Dein, who appointed Wenger in 1996 and who stepped down as club vice-chair in 2007, told Sky Sports on Monday that Wenger “will undoubtedly go down in history as the greatest Arsenal manager ever”.

Dein said he has been contacted by unnamed clubs to see if Wenger would still be interested in coaching.

“I personally had calls from various people yesterday, saying, ‘Can I speak to him?’ The question is does he want to do it any more?”

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