Arsene Wenger dismissed protests against him as more “disappointed love” than “real aggression” after disenchanted supporters held up banners calling for his resignation in the 1-0 victory over Norwich in the Premier League on Saturday.
A well-trailed campaign saw demonstrations inside and outside the Emirates Stadium with fans, unhappy at the 12-year gap since the club last won the Premier League, brandishing placards in both the 12th minute and 12 minutes before the end.
Yet afterwards Wenger played down the protests, adding that he intended to carry on seeking to bring success to Arsenal.
“We were in a position for a long time where our fans thought we could win the league,” he said. “It’s more disappointed love than real aggression.
“It was a strange atmosphere. Some were protesting, yes, but the vast majority were supporting the team. I’m really sorry if I cannot make them all happy. We continue to work hard to achieve it.”
The stadium was split between pro and anti-Wenger factions displaying rival posters.
One said “Wenger – 12 years of excuses, Ranieri – 9 months, champions,” a reference to Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri, whose side will win the Premier League if they beat Manchester United on Sunday.
But the majority of supporters appeared to oppose the protest, drowning out the first disruption with a chant of “There’s only one Arsene Wenger”. Many displayed banners declaring their loyalty, with one saying: “Proud of Arsene, ashamed of fans”.
The stadium mood had not been helped by Wenger’s pre-match comments in which he said that his team’s title aspirations had been hindered by playing “in a very difficult climate” at home.
That angered the faction calling for him to resign. Before the game, fans from the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust, Red Action and the Black Scarf Movement handed out posters saying “Time for a change”.
Wenger’s supporters will point to the success of his tactical substitution in bringing on Danny Welbeck just after the interval.
Within four minutes, the striker got on the end of an Olivier Giroud knock-down to score the game’s only goal and lift Arsenal into third place with two games to play.
The Gunners could still finish ahead of traditional rivals Tottenham Hotspur, who are two points ahead with a game in hand.
That would go some way to assuaging the anger of those who feel the club are stagnating after almost 20 years under Wenger, who is the longest-serving manager at one club in European football.