And with the shrill peep of Michael Oliver’s whistle, the end arrived. The era is over and interregnum begins.
Huddersfield Town 0 – 1 Arsenal
For once the players stuck to the script and won. The goal was a fleeting reminder of how good Arsenal can be; incisive, quick and effective. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang applied the finish but the assist from the outside of Aaron Ramsey’s boot was delicious; it demanded a goal and the striker added it.
Beyond that, it was a pleasant game, lacking the intensity of the previous 37 matches because there was nothing riding on it. Huddersfield will feel they deserved a point and were more open than their league position enabled them to be at other times. We were off the pace and on the beach, enjoying the rest before resuming football in a fortnight with national squads.
But the day was about the manager. The celebration continued and Huddersfield gave him a nice gift. Their fans offered a round of applause for a couple of minutes which Arsène seemed to miss until halfway through. Courteously – what else – he acknowledged them when he did.
Courteous is a nice word to sum up the day, and Arsène seemed to enjoy it. There was a fantastic photo of him in the dugout yesterday. He’d walked out to take in some air about 40-45 minutes before kick-off and took a set. He looked at ease with life, relaxed and to be enjoying himself. Amy Lawrence hit the nail on the head with her observation that since he announced his departure, Arsène looks a lot less stressed.
And why wouldn’t he be? Post-match, he joked with the media that the wrong banner was on the plane which flew overhead. “Kroenke, you’re next” may sum up the mood but that is a battle which is a lot harder to win.
It’s as Well to Begin as One Intends to Continue
Arsène was magnanimous in his departure. In an age when football thrives on kissing a badge which means nothing more than a paycheque, Wenger’s recognition of the away fans was genuine. A bow, a wave with a heartfelt appreciation of their efforts to be there no matter the conditions, weather or of the team:
“It was spontaneous because I know that we’ve disappointed the away fans this season, that many of them they live the whole week and use their spare money to travel up to games.
“It’s part of the respect. We had disagreements which I accept but we had one thing in common: we loved Arsenal Football Club and I wanted to share that with them today.”
Which I don’t think is anything anyone can argue with. Whether you agree with the path he chose, the decisions he made; that’s another matter. However, I’d take issue with anyone who says he didn’t love the club; I can’t see any reason to doubt that.
Speaking of his time with Arsenal, Wenger added:
“I’m very proud, I’ve contributed a little bit. I’ve given some good moments to people who love the club. I don’t know what will stay or remain through the victories or defeats.
“I think what will remain is the formidable human aspect of the last 22 years – that is special and I will cherish that.
And it is. Make the most of it as football supporters for there won’t be another 20-year reign in our lifetimes. It’s almost ‘anti-football’ now. If a coach gets to five years, that’s almost the equivalent of forty-odd years at the factory or office. Certainly, there won’t be a club which lets the manager control so many aspects of it; football is big business and micro-management is off the agenda.
The Comfort of Sacrifice
The final words on the day itself belong to the man, who summed up what it meant to him to be Arsenal boss:
“I had fantastic human experiences at the club, above the results, it was a human adventure for 22 years and I wish everybody well and a lot of success to my club for the future.”
There’s no better way to put it.