Arsene Wenger has expressed his gratitude to Manchester United for what was a classy reception as the Frenchman made his last Old Trafford appearance as Arsenal manager.
Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho presented Wenger, who was met with a standing ovation from supporters, with a vase before the game commemorating his unprecedented achievements in 22 years at Arsenal.
He received further applause when he came out for the second half before Man United fans, soon after Marouane Fellaini‘s late winner, jokingly chimed: “Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay”.
Speaking at a press conference at Old Trafford for the last time as Arsenal manager, Wenger was notably touched by the reception United had given him.
“That shows you once you’re not a danger any more people love you,” he said.
“I’m thankful to Man United because they had a nice gesture before the game and it’s the first time I get a trophy before the game, so that’s new. It was very classy from them.”
“I don’t know [what was on the vase], I haven’t looked at it, I had no time, it was just before the kick-off.
“Now I just want to go and have a glass with Sir Alex because he always has good wine.”
Sunday’s game was less about the two teams on the pitch – the fact that United secured Champions League football and ensured, mathematically, that Arsenal finished outside the top four places by winning hardly seemed to matter – and more about the history Wenger has at this stadium.
No opposition manager has as many dramatic tales of this ground as the Frenchman: that Marc Overmars goal, winning the Premier League at Old Trafford, losing 6-1 and 8-2, the Battle of Old Trafford, being banished to the stands to produce one of the iconic photos in modern football, the Battle of the Buffet, losing some more.
Sitting in the stands at Old Trafford, watching the wily old figure of Wenger makes his way down to the dugout, I couldn’t help but feel immense warmth to him on a human level.
Forget rivalries, forget tactics, forget past exchanges, forget football altogether: this was a man who embodied class and a love for the beatific potential of this sport – a man who, at the bottom of it all, saw football as less about points or statistics and more about people coming together in unison and friendship.
He paid the price for that in results. But I will always, always respect him for staying loyal to that principle for 22 years. The English game is without doubt better off because of it.