Arsene Wenger has signed a new two-year contract to remain as Arsenal manager to end 12 months of speculation over the Frenchman’s future.
Speculation over Wenger’s future has been rife in recent months but despite a backdrop of supporter unrest, he has now committed to the club with a fresh deal that will extend his reign to almost 23 years.
Wenger, 67, had come in for criticism after a run of seven defeats in 12 games saw the Gunners drop out of the Premier League title race and suffer humiliation in the Champions League as they were thrashed 10-2 on aggregate by Bayern Munich.
But it was confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that he will remain in his role until at least 2019 after what the club are describing as a full review of their on and off pitch activities.
“Arsenal Football Club and Arsene Wenger have agreed a two-year extension to his contract as manager,” a statement on the Arsenal website read.
“Arsene and chief executive Ivan Gazidis have conducted a full review of our on and off the pitch activities to identify areas for improvement to build a sustained title challenge.”
Wenger said he was optimistic for the future and said work was under way to plan for a title challenge next season – with Arsenal having not lifted the Premier League trophy in 13 years.
“I love this club and I am looking forward to the future with optimism and excitement,” the Frenchman said. “We are looking at what we do well and how we can be stronger everywhere.
“This is a strong group of players and with some additions we can be even more successful. We’re committed to mounting a sustained league challenge and that will be our focus this summer and next season.
“I am grateful to have the support of the board and (majority owner) Stan (Kroenke) in doing everything we can to win more trophies. It’s what we all want and I know it’s what our fans around the world demand.”
Despite protests aimed at forcing Wenger to leave the Emirates Stadium this summer, a tactical tweak to a three-man defence saw Arsenal win nine of their last 10 games of the campaign, culminating in Saturday’s 2-1 FA Cup final victory over Chelsea.
Wenger now holds a record seven FA Cup wins, with Arsenal the most successful team in the competition having lifted the trophy no less than 13 times.
But it is in the league and on the European stage where Wenger and his side have struggled – finishing fifth last season and missing out on Champions League football for the first time since 1998.
They also ended the campaign behind north London rivals Tottenham, ending a 22-year run of dominance over their neighbours.
All of which fuelled protestations against Wenger, with pre-match marches, planes carrying anti-Wenger banners over away grounds, boycotts of games and banners being displayed over the past few months.
But the board have not buckled to those pressures and have backed the man who has delivered three Premier League titles since taking over in 1996.
Wenger had previously admitted that the continuing uncertainty led to an “absolutely horrendous” environment at the club this season and contributed to their barren run.
Arsenal’s majority owner Stan Kroenke, who rebuffed a takeover bid from Russian billionaire and minority shareholder Alisher Usmanov last week, hailed Wenger as the best man for the job as he too targeted more silverware.
“Our ambition is to win the Premier League and other major trophies in Europe,” he said.
“It’s what the fans, players, staff, manager and board expect and we won’t rest until that is achieved.
“Arsene is the best person to help us make that happen. He has a fantastic track record and has our full backing.”
The ‘full review’ conducted by Wenger and Gazidis is likely to have involved conversations about restructuring the backroom department at the club.
Wenger has always insisted he would never work alongside a director of football and it remains to be seen if any of his coaching staff are replaced.
Gazidis himself said the club are in the right place to challenge next season.
“There is no complacency anywhere at this club,” he said.
“Our goal is to compete for and win trophies here and in Europe. Everything we do is designed to make that happen and we will be working hard on and off the pitch this summer to improve and make a strong challenge next season.
“The club has grown beyond recognition in every aspect in recent years and we have the platform to be successful and meet the ambitions we and our fans share.”
Former Monaco boss Wenger is set to become the most experienced manager in the Premier League era. He is currently 20 matches behind Sir Alex Ferguson’s 810 games.
Supporters, both for and against Wenger, will want to see money invested in the playing staff over the summer to try and move Arsenal closer to the title next season.
Despite only being able to offer the lure of Europa League football, the club have been linked with the likes of Leicester’s Riyad Mahrez, highly-rated Monaco youngster Kylian Mbappe and Alexandre Lacazette of Lyon.
A move for Schalke full-back Sead Koslasniac is believed to have been agreed and his free transfer should be announced soon, while Pit is understood Arsenal are in negotiations with Belgian outfit Eupen for 19-year-old forward Henry Onyekuru.
One of Wenger’s first tasks to set about as the ink dries on his own deal is to tie down Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez to new contracts.
The pair have a little over 12 months remaining on their current agreements and have reportedly attracted attention from top clubs across Europe.
Earlier in the year it was claimed both players were holding out for parity with the Premier League’s top earners and it would be a signal of Arsenal’s intent if they can convince Sanchez, who hit 30 goals last season, and club-record signing Ozil to extend their stays.
But, in the short-term, Wenger will no doubt be relieved not to face any further questions on his immediate future as he heads into what could prove to be a busy summer.