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Arsenal play up to Wenger’s image for emotional Emirates Stadium farewell

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The house that Arsene Wenger built put animosity and apathy aside to give the Frenchman a rousing send-off on his final match at Emirates Stadium.

Unity has been in short supply around here of late yet everybody chipped in: the players thrashed Burnley 5-0, Gunners fans filled the stands to pay tribute to the club’s most iconic manager and the visitors even followed the script with one of their most inept defensive displays of an otherwise fine season.

This was the image of Arsenal that Wenger wants to project around the world – one he felt had been lost in the recent trials and tribulations – free-flowing, free-scoring football exuding finesse and class before a sell-out crowd coming together for a common cause.

Chairman Sir Chips Keswick was booed as the club began their post-match presentations – a consequence of his occasionally dismissive tone when fans have voiced their frustrations at Annual General Meetings – but it was the only note of malevolence all afternoon.

The day began with each fan was given a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘Merci Arsene – Arsenal vs Burnley, Sunday May 6, 2018, to commemorate the moment in time the club united behind a manager whose ongoing employment has divided the fanbase in recent seasons.

It was t-shirt weather, too – a balmy early May afternoon, the stadium covered in clear blue sky to ensure Wenger was spared one last wrestling match with his big duffel coat.

The backdrop to many home games here of late has been scores of empty seats but there were precious few in evidence here – the red t-shirts helped mask any spare red seats – and from the moment a guard of honour was formed by the two sets of players, Wenger took centre-stage.

His 606th and final competitive home game as Arsenal manager ended in a 415th victory (with 120 draws and 71 losses, for the record) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 14th-minute opener settled any nerves over losing sixth place, affording everyone to concentrate on the historical context rather than anything contemporaneous.

Arsenal fans went through their back catalogue of songs, starting, inevitably, with ‘There’s Only One Arsene Wenger’ before scrolling through ditties about Patrick Vieira, 49 matches undefeated, Santi Cazorla and Per Mertesacker, who received a rousing reception as he trotted out to warm-up on what was also his final home game. ‘Danke Per’, read one banner in the Clock End.

Wenger was cheered as he kicked the ball back into play and frequently responded to requests from pockets of home fans asking he wave in their direction; there was no sign of any residual frustration at the club’s Europa League semi-final exit to Atletico Madrid.

Aubameyang’s goals and Konstantinos Mavropanos’ home debut were the green shoots of life after Wenger beginning to emerge. 

Mavropanos earned warm applause for clattering Sam Vokes midway through the first half – embodying the combativeness Wenger’s successor must instil in this team.

It was a challenge that prompted some fans located near the press box to turn in the direction of Martin Keown, covering the game for BBC radio, equating Mavropanos’ intervention with the desire Keown made a cornerstone of his career.

“There’s only one Martin Keown,” they sang, in the hope Mavropanos could one day become another in Keown’s mould.


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