There was a guard of honour, a presentation, a speech and in between a game of football.
Sixth place against seventh, both hoovering up the crumbs from those that spent the season chasing down Manchester City but ultimately failed. Wenger’s last game in charge had something of a party atmosphere about it. The crowd wore ‘Merci Arsene ‘ T-shirts, they chanted his name endlessly and banners were held aloft everywhere.
Not the banners of protest but ones that recognised the effort and dedication of the Frenchman over 22 years and somehow it seemed peculiar. Gone were the boo’s of the dissatisfied masses and it was as if the events of this season had been wiped from the memory. You knew it was a very special occasion because absent Stan made an appearance.
The crowd thought they knew him, he looked vaguely familiar but then a radio commentator mentioned him by name and we all breathed a sigh of relief that our owner had made the effort to attend.
The much-maligned Mesut Ozil was one of seven changes which allowed us another opportunity to see more from young Greek defender Konstantinos Mavropanos. Mavropanos looks confident, strong, spatially aware and positionally astute. How Arsenal fans would love to see a backline brimming with those qualities because it’s been a luxury of late.
Apart from the obvious highlight of Wenger’s fond farewell at the Emirates, there were glimpses of the team could turn out under the next manager. Lacazette and Aubamayang, over whom there were so many questions marks in terms of playing together, seem to have found not only a bond but a partnership of substance that could offer plenty of goals.
Kolasinac, who was so under-utilised this term will surely be a regular in a team devoid of bite and physicality. Where he plays is going to be interesting, known as a left back but able to play in any defensive role, I would like to slot him in Xhaka’s role because he simply can’t be any worse. No Mustafi here or Koscielny, both of who, one feels are not going to be part of Arsenal’s long-term future.
Expectations were that this would be a tight affair against a combative Burnley side who have given as a good account of themselves this term under the guidance of the promising Sean Dyche. They’ve been extremely competitive and have played the type of attractive football which has seen them within touching distance of a European competition.
Yet, circumstances dictated that no one was about to spoil Wenger’s farewell, so Arsenal hit the accelerator and it turned into a rout. The side looked stylish, confident and fluent in attack, something that has been hit and miss this season but it provided the perfect send-off for Wenger. Lacazette rifled a low cross from the right into the danger area which was dispatched with ease by the predatory Aubamayang.
One can only imagine how Arsenal would have faired in the Europa league had the rules been slightly more favourable. Bellerin, so often a defensive failure, was at his marauding best in attack and put in a tasty cross for Lacazette to finish for the second. Wilshere then popped the ball into the path of Kolasinac for a bullet of a shot. The net bulged to the extent where it might fly off from the awesome power employed by the versatile defender.
Iwobi showed neat control and class to add to the total and Aubameyang, who else, put the game beyond reach and sent the home fans into a frenzy. Rather sportingly the Burnley fans, who had little to cheer about, sang ‘There’s only one Arsene Wenger’ this received applause from the home fans. Football is occasionally perceived as unsporting, even loutish, but this was an example to all that it can be honourable, all credit to Burnley and their supporters.
Arsenal, despite all their many flaws, can still be irresistible in attack and this game jogged the memory of the glory days, such was their dominance. It then all became about the man who, more than any other, created a club. Yes, Arsenal were a club long before he arrived but he gave it an identity and helped build the stadium for future generations to enjoy. He gave us style, extraordinary style and a blueprint which will be exceptionally difficult to live up to.
His best years will be remembered by us all, his more recent struggles forgotten and his shadow will be cast over the Emirates for the next few years if not longer. Only the sustained success of a new manager will change that and that may not be anytime soon. Ancelloti is a firm favourite with the fans that look beyond Enrique, but only time will tell if they will be held in such high regard, not only by the Arsenal faithful but the football community in general.
They say that you only truly know what you had when it’s gone and this may be the case for Arsene Wenger. His appetite was undiminished but his inability to take the club forward cost him his job. He told the crowd he would miss them but it may yet be the case that they will miss him more. He was a modest, honest, hardworking, innovator. A class act, a principled and loyal man, who loved a club passionately and loved the game even more.
It was fitting that he should leave the Emirates with a hatful of goals in the style that he implemented on his arrival back in 1996. His farewell tour continues with Two final matches, both away from home. Arsenal have not won away this year but it is extremely likely that Wenger may part company with one, if not two wins to end that dreadful run.
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