IT is the end of an era for Arsenal and for English football as a whole after yesterday’s announcement Gunners boss Arsene Wenger is to step down at the end of the season after 22 years at the helm.

For some fans at the Emirates, his departure is long overdue but no matter how far behind the likes of Manchester City and United they have fallen recently, no one should ever forget what the Frenchman has done for that club.

When the Gunners were looking for a replacement for ex-Wanderers boss Bruce Rioch in the autumn of 1996, many questioned the appointment of an unknown foreigner from Japanese football dubbed ‘The Professor’.

But within two years he had won the double and landed the first of several bloody blows on the growing juggernaut at Old Trafford under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Their rivalry over the next decade would intensify, something that coincidentally is the subject of a new Channel Five documentary on Monday night.

At the time, Wenger’s presence and will to win at Arsenal was an irritant to Fergie and United but even the Scot will admit now it raised their game as well and the whole of the bar for English football.

New ideas and a new approach was Wenger’s philosophy and English football would never be the same again.

Improved diet and lifestyles for players and innovative training ideas transformed our game as a whole as many others looked to follow Wenger’s blueprint that produced some delightful football teams.

Okay, so they often came a cropper when they had to mix it and battle as Wenger’s boys found out to their cost against Sam Allardyce’s Wanderers on more than one occasion.

But the football on show and the players Wenger attracted were a joy to behold.

Long before Pep Guardiola built apparently the best team the Premier League has ever seen at City, or so we are led to believe, Wenger fashioned a side that swept all before them in 2003/4 to go a whole league season unbeaten – his famous Invincibles.

That should never be forgotten by pundits and commentators who seemingly have short memories when drooling over Pep’s Blues this season, as good as they are.

One regret for Wenger as he prepares to exit must be the fact he never quite conquered Europe’s top competition with Arsenal despite going close against Barcelona in 2006.

I suspect that will niggle Wenger despite ensuring Arsenal qualified for the Champions League year after year.

In that battle of European Cup titles, Fergie won the day.

But Wenger has plenty of other achievements to be proud of and Arsenal fans who have turned on him in recent years should never forget that.

When they turn up at the Emirates tomorrow, Wenger’s legacy is there in bricks and mortar. It is certainly not Highbury.

Maybe it is time to move on, all good things come to an end as they say.

But those Gunners followers should maybe be careful what they wish for.

You just have to look to Old Trafford and the difficulty United have had in maintaining their levels since Fergie packed it in five years ago.

Whoever replaces Wenger has got just as big a job on with more money splashed out each year and more teams than ever now competing for those top English honours.

Maybe the next few years will be a real illustration of how good Wenger really was.