LONDON • Arsenal have declared publicly for the first time that Arsene Wenger will choose whether he remains the manager beyond the end of the season.
In a move unprecedented during Wenger's tenure, they issued a statement telling disgruntled supporters that the decision on the Frenchman's future would be made "mutually".
However, since Wenger has been offered and thought to have agreed terms on a two-year deal, the Premier League football club were indicating that he will only leave at the end of the season if he wants to.
In the statement, published on the club's website, Chips Keswick, the Arsenal chairman, acknowledged growing unrest among supporters in the wake of the team falling out of the title race with a humiliating Champions League 10-2 aggregate last-16 defeat by Bayern Munich this week.
"We are fully aware of the attention focused on the club and understand the debate," Keswick said.
"We respect that fans are entitled to their different individual opinions but we will always run this great football club with its best long-term interests at heart.
"Arsene has a contract until the end of the season. Any decisions will be made by us mutually and communicated at the right time in the right way."
The club have never previously released a statement in support of the manager.
Arsenal's board has always acted in private and Thursday's statement is an indication that it has been stung by growing criticism of its silence.
There is also a perception that the directors have hidden behind Wenger instead of confronting the problems that have led to the team again losing ground on their rivals this season, which is a wider and more complicated issue than just the manager.
But Keswick could also inadvertently stoke further anger in downplaying the view of fans as that contradicted Ivan Gazidis, the club's chief executive, who told supporters during a meeting in 2011 that Wenger was "ultimately accountable to the fans, they are the ones who ultimately make the judgment".
Gazidis effectively handed fans a mandate to protest and a group plans to voice discontent for a second time this week before the FA Cup quarter-final against Lincoln City today.
The Arsenal manager's position remains under intense scrutiny after losing five of the past seven games, but he was in a relaxed and upbeat mood on Thursday.
The Frenchman watched Barcelona's comeback against Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday and pondered the manager's lot with Luis Enrique, a 46-year-old with six years of management behind him, set to leave the Camp Nou because he is apparently exhausted.
IT'S UNDER CONTROL
We respect that fans are entitled to their different individual opinions but we will always run this great football club with its best long-term interests at heart.
CHIPS KESWICK, Arsenal chairman, assuaging angry fans who want manager Arsene Wenger to leave.
Wenger, with decades at the sharp end behind him, feels nothing of the sort.
"It just sums it up that two weeks ago he was an idiot and everyone said you have to leave, so he said: 'Okay, I go.' Today he is a hero," Wenger said.
"I feel all right. I feel very strong, very motivated, ready to give my best."
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN