Sunday afternoon started with the travelling Burnley fans teasing us “you’re only here for the t-shirts”.
Although a rare full house and abnormally long queues for the souvenir programme all felt somewhat false, from the perspective of the past few seasons of a growing “time for a change” clamour, ultimately the curtain fell on Arsene Wenger’s 22-year long tenure on home turf amid the perfect setting, with the blazing sunshine the ideal backdrop to one of the most fluid and entertaining examples of Wengerball that we’ve seen at our place for many a moon.
I’m unsure whether it was an off-the-boil Burnley display that contributed to a flattering 5-0 goalfest (in contrast to the sort of stalwart performances seen from Sean Dyche’s side in previous encounters), or whether the Gunners were that bit more motivated by the mortifying fear of finishing below the Clarets, forcing them off the beach and back on the pitch for a Europa League qualifier as soon as July 26.
Nevertheless, considering the anticlimactic context, resulting from our miserable midweek failure to maintain hope of Champions League footie, following our Europa League semi-final exit in Madrid, thrashing Burnley was a fitting last act in a home campaign that compares to the best in the land, and it provided the sort of welcome solace that ensured Arsène got the historic send off he truly deserved.
Seeing a blubbing Gooner on his pushbike outside the old stadium on Avenell Road prior to the game, it was evident this was going to be an emotional afternoon.
Our tears aren’t just marking the passing of the greatest manager that the Gunners have ever known, but the fact that Le Gaffer is likely the last of his kind in football as a whole.
The beautiful game has become such a transient business that it’s hard to imagine there ever being another decades-long dynasty of a big club dictator.
Four cup finals in the last five years is nothing to be sneezed at and for all the incessant whinging about our underachievement in recent seasons, I don’t think we will truly appreciate the magnitude of Arsene’s accomplishments until the dust has settled and we look back in years to come at the feat of maintaining the Arsenal’s seat at Europe’s top table for 20 successive seasons, during possibly the most challenging period of transition in the club’s entire glorious history.
Our upstart neighbours have been gloating about enjoying a single Champions League campaign. They and every other club would give their eye-teeth to have been mixing it with the big boys, each and every season.
Some of us might have the two remaining dates at Leicester and Huddersfield on Wenger’s farewell tour. Yet for the vast majority of Gooners, yesterday was their last chance to bid the obdurate old codger adieu. As Arsene strolled around on the pitch soaking up the adulation, the tears were mixed with trepidation because for a generation of Gunners fans, Wenger’s Arsenal is all they’ve ever known.
Yet as the sun set on his last home outing, there was some sense of symmetry, having witnessed a glimmer of same sort of scintillating footie that signalled a revolution to the game in this country upon his arrival all those years ago.
Who knows, perhaps the inclusion of Mavropanos might prove to be a parting gift, capable of the same significant influence upon the team, as was seen from the introduction of a bandy legged Patrick Vieira.
“Be careful what you wish for” was the persistent riposte of all Arsene’s most loyal supporters and even if the vast majority of them were left crying out for a breathe of fresh air these past couple of stagnant seasons, there can be no denying that he’s likely to prove an impossible act to follow.
Yet follow him someone must and if parting was, in the words of the Baird, “such sweet sorrow”, there remains more than a little eager expectation in the fact that for the first time, for as long as we can remember, we have absolutely no idea what tomorrow brings.
The king is dead, long live the king.
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