Arsene Wenger admits he could have no complaints about the angry reaction from Arsenal fans who booed their team during and after the 2-1 defeat against Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
Wenger's team were jeered at half-time and then again at the final whistle, while some fans voiced their disapproval during the players' lap of appreciation following Arsenal's latest defeat of a miserable second half of the season. The Gunners were two goals down in the first 15 minutes as Darren Bent struck twice for Villa and Robin Van Persie's late goal wasn't enough to rescue a point.
Arsenal have now gone six seasons without a trophy and, with ticket prices set to rise next season, the Emirates faithful have clearly had enough of paying through the nose to see their team of underachievers. At one stage this season, Arsenal were challenging for a quadruple but they completely fell apart after losing the League Cup final to Birmingham and Wenger conceded the fans had every right to let off steam.
"It was not embarrassing, it was our job to thank the fans and you never have to be embarrassed when you do your job," Wenger said. "It was not a tour of glory but no matter what kind of result happened you have to respect your fans for turning up all season. It's not a ego trip it's a respect trip."
Many fans had already left by the lap of honour and those that stayed weren't in the mood to praise their players, making it an uncomfortable time for Wenger and company. "It doesn't matter what I feel, you have to respect the values of the club," Wenger added. "I feel very fortunate I've played 15 years with full stands so when people are not happy they can show it."
Arsenal could now lose third place to Manchester City if they fail to win their last game at Fulham. That would mean playing in a UEFA Champions League qualifier in pre-season and Wenger is keen to avoid such a pressurised fixture before the Premier League has even begun.
"We dropped three points that could cost us automatic qualification for the Champions League and were punished because we went in too tentative and not dominant in anything we did," Wenger said. "It will be a big setback to finish fourth but we will adapt our preparations to it."
Meanwhile, Arsenal will be without Cesc Fabregas in their bid to finish third after the Spain midfielder was ruled out for the rest of the campaign. Fabregas has suffered a setback in his recovery from a thigh injury and will miss the trip to Fulham when Wenger's team complete their season.
Samir Nasri is also a doubt for Craven Cottage. "Fabregas is out for the season and the international season, he had a setback on his thigh and is out for three or four weeks," Wenger said. "Nasri has very little chance for the weekend."
Gary McAllister, in charge of Villa while boss Gerard Houllier recovers from heart problems, saluted the impact of England striker Bent since his £24 million move from Sunderland during the January transfer window. "He's been class since the moment we signed him," McAllister said.
"He's been excellent around the place, it was a big show of faith for the owners to spend that kind of money but by the end of the month when players went for £35 million and £50 million he looked like a bargain."