Arsenal 2 Ajax 1
Thierry Henry took just 11 minutes to find the net at Arsenal’s new residence, but the first game at the £390m (€571.4m) Emirates Stadium belonged to Dennis Bergkamp.
Henry cancelled out Klaas Jan Huntelaar’s first-half goal and Kanu grabbed a late winner as the red and white half of north London bid farewell to one of their all-time greats at Bergkamp’s testimonial.
A crowd of 54,000 flocked to the Gunners’ impressive new residence to pay tribute to Bergkamp, who finished 11 glittering years with the club at the end of last season.
An array of Arsenal stars past and present gathered to take on Ajax, Bergkamp’s first club, to give the Dutch master the send-off he deserves after 423 appearances and 120 goals.
A predominantly young Arsenal first team – minus their holidaying World Cup stars but including the likes of Alexander Hleb, Mathieu Flamini, Pascal Cygan and, of course, Bergkamp – kicked-off proceedings just 68 days after the club said a fond farewell to Highbury, their home for 93 years.
A Legends XI featuring Patrick Vieira, Ian Wright, Robert Pires, David Seaman and Henry took the field after the break.
Former Manchester United defender Jaap Stam lined up for Ajax, who boasted an illustrious bench themselves with Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, Ronald and Frank de Boer and current Red Devils goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar kicking their heels.
Bergkamp has lost none of his poise on the ball over the summer and created the opening half’s best chance by sending Hleb clear down the right, receiving the return pass on the edge of the area and sending a trademark chip over the bar.
Jeremie Aliadiere, partnering Bergkamp in attack, also went close with a rising shot which was kept out by Ajax keeper Maarten Stekelenburg.
Bergkamp left the field on the half hour, no doubt saving himself to take on some older legs after the interval.
And the visitors took the lead when Edgar Manucharyan scampered clear of Justin Hoyte down the Arsenal right and crossed for Huntelaar to volley home.
The Legends were introduced at half-time to rapturous applause and settled in to their new surroundings as if they’d never been away.
Vieira and Emmanuel Petit were as combative as ever in midfield, Marc Overmars a constant threat and Nigel Winterburn still set off on those lung-busting overlaps, although it took him a little longer to get back into position than it used to.
Henry struck 11 minutes into the second half, chesting a curling cross from Lee Dixon before firing past the exposed van der Sar for the first of what the home faithful hope will be many goals on his new stage.
Edgar Davids embarrassed Seaman by haring round the former England goalkeeper, and the crowd roared with delight when Gilles Grimandi felled the Tottenham man.
Ronald de Boer sent the resulting penalty over the top to ensure the carnival atmosphere remained intact.
Cruyff jogged onto the pitch to great acclaim along with van Basten, but looked his 59 years with his first touch, almost falling over the ball.
Current Holland manager Van Basten, on the other hand, sent in a superb volley which was well saved by Alex Manninger.
Kanu hit the winner a minute from time when his shot deflected off Stam’s backside and into the net before Bergkamp was denied a crowning moment when clean through, Stanley Menzo keeping out his low drive.
An emotional Bergkamp addressed the crowd after the final whistle before embarking on a triumphant lap of honour.
“It’s an amazing stadium. I thought the pitch couldn’t be better than Highbury but it is,” he said. “A club like Arsenal deserves a stadium like this.
“If ever I was going to have a testimonial it was always going to be against Ajax, so thank you to them for coming.
“In 11 years I have had a fantastic, successful time and a big part of that has been the fans, so thank you.”
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