Arsene Wenger collected Arsenal’s golden ‘Invincibles’ Premier League trophy as his parting gift from the Emirates Stadium before insisting his replacement can challenge for honours next season.
The 68-year-old will step down as manager at the end of the season, ending a tenure of almost 22 years.
In his final home game, the Frenchman saw his side thrash Burnley 5-0 before special tributes were paid to a man who won three Premier League titles and a record seven FA Cups during his reign.
Wenger was presented with a commemorative Premier League trophy, awarded to the club after the unbeaten ‘Invincible’ title-winning season of 2003-04, by former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson as the Frenchman’s former assistant Pat Rice and a host of ex-players looked on.
The outgoing Arsenal boss took time to send his best wishes to his old Manchester United adversary Sir Alex Ferguson, who is in intensive care after undergoing emergency surgery following a brain haemorrhage, before thanking supporters and saying his goodbyes.
Wenger’s final season did not yield any silverware, and a string of Champions League and Premier League failures in recent years have ultimately split the club’s fanbase over his suitability for the role.
But, while Wenger would again not be drawn on his replacement, he said the team at his disposal will be good enough to challenge for honours – provided there are some key additions.
“I think it is better I don’t speak publicly about the next manager because I’m not involved in the story,” he said.
“I do not want to put any pressure on the club to choose this guy or this guy and give already a handicap to the guy who comes in because he has been chosen or it wasn’t my decision – I am nothing to do with that.
“I just think he inherits a team that is much better than people think it is. I’m convinced, you can see the togetherness of this team is special and with the right additions this team will challenge next year.”
While the club paid tribute to Wenger with free t-shirts for all supporters, a special matchday programme and a guard of honour before kick-off, his players showed up for the occasion, too.
Great gesture by @theofficialfwa and some of those journalists who have covered Arsene Wenger & his #AFC side for years - the boss was handed a 2004 bottle of wine. "Because it will never be beaten" quipped @johncrossmirror into the PA microphone. Wenger seemed genuinely touched. pic.twitter.com/ZDCgtyGhIL— Mark Mann-Bryans (@MarkyMBryans) May 6, 2018
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hit a brace with Alexandre Lacazette, Sead Kolasinac and Alex Iwobi also weighing in with goals.
Burnley boss Sean Dyche called Wenger “a legend” and felt his team’s performance in north London was adversely affected by having their European spot already secured.
“They had something to play for which is the legend that is Arsene Wenger,” he said.
“Rightly so they turned up, they gave a performance, they all looked at it, eyes were alive to give a performance.
“He’s probably enjoyed it and is probably a bit frustrated, thinking: ‘That would have been nice a bit more often’.
“We played our part, unfortunately, in the story people probably thought was meant to finish like that, and it did.”