Arsene Wenger says it's "very sad" to miss out on the Champions League for the first time in his Arsenal career, and admitted that the uncertainty around his future was partly responsible for the failed Premier League campaign.
Wenger said the psychological environment for his players was "absolutely horrendous" in recent months, but defended owner Stan Kroenke after large sections of the Emirates on Sunday called on the majority owner to "get out of our club."
Arsenal finished fifth despite beating Everton 3-1 on the final day of the league season, the first time they have finished outside the top four since Wenger took charge of the club in 1996. The Gunners were a point behind fourth-place Liverpool, who beat Middlesbrough 3-0.
Wenger, who has yet to announce whether he's staying at the club after facing increased calls from fans to step down, acknowledged that his personal situation was part of the reason for coming up short.
"It's very sad [to not be in the Champions League]. Because for 20 years we were in it," Wenger told a press conference. "It's very strange because with 75 points we are one point short. And of course you can look everywhere for where we dropped this point.
"Overall I believe that we played since January in a very difficult environment for different reasons. Some obviously that you have known about, and that is very difficult for a group of players to cope with that. And some other reasons that I will talk about another day.
"But the psychological environment for that group of players was absolutely horrendous and I'm very proud of what they have done, the way they responded and finished the season."
Arsenal fans staged protests outside the Emirates before several home games in the last couple of months of the season, while airplanes with a "Wenger out" banner flew over the stadium for two away games. Nearly 20,000 fans also stayed away from Tuesday's home game against Sunderland to show their displeasure with the team's results.
"It has been difficult yes. Certainly my personal situation has contributed to that," Wenger said. "You have been at the games, and you cannot say that the environment for the group of players was especially positive."
Wenger refused to elaborate on why his own future wasn't sorted out sooner, saying "I will give you an answer one day, but not today."
On Sunday, the fans turned against Kroenke instead of Wenger, in the wake of a bid from minority shareholder Alisher Usmanov to buy up the American's stake in the club. Large sections of the stadium chanted for Kroenke to "get out of our club" while several banners were held up with the same message.
Wenger said he didn't know whether Kroenke was at the game, but said the owner wasn't to blame for the team's results.
"I respect Stan Kroenke a lot, he's not at fault if we did not reach the Champions League tonight," Wenger said. "It's the technical department that is responsible for that. I don't see what he has to do with that."
Wenger, though, didn't take any chances in terms of facing the fans' wrath himself. As the players embarked on the traditional lap of honour around the Emirates pitch to thank the supporters at the end of the season, Wenger stood by the sidelines watching -- unlike previous years, when he has joined in the march.
"The players, they have been disturbed enough. I was out there to show respect, but I wanted the players to just have a quiet lap of honour that they deserve," Wenger said.
Arsenal still have the chance to finish the season on a high by winning the FA Cup final against Chelsea next weekend.
But of what happens in the cup final, Wenger insisted that the squad doesn't need a major overhaul next season. Instead, he is looking for just one or two top-quality additions -- if he can keep the current group together.
"I think this group of players is good enough to come back. They have learned a lot. They have gone through a very difficult period this season and they've bounced back in a strong way. And I think that will help them absolutely next season," Wenger said.
"But first I think we have to keep 90 percent of these players together, and find one or two more players who strengthen the group. But we don't need a lot, we don't need many. But you need, maybe, top quality."