If Arsene Wenger were to draw up his fairytale final home match in charge of his beloved Arsenal, it is not clear he could have done better than what actually transpired in Sunday, as the Gunners absolutely dismembered Burnley 5-0 at the Emirates Stadium. Burnley may only be 1 place back of the Gunners in the table, but the day was all about Arsenal and their dominating performance. With a ceremony to honour the great Arsene Wenger following the match, the players ensured the mode would stay buoyant throughout the afternoon, and they looked a different class to Sean Dyche’s overachieving Burnley side.
Gunners Find Their Place This Season
As Arsenal supporters have witnessed their team decline from a lock on top 4 to a 6th place team over the last 2 seasons, rival supporters have gleefully wished the Gunners luck battling Burnley for 7th place. While there have been moments this season where some would have bitterly been inclined to agree, the Gunners showed on Sunday that when they play up to their potential, the gap between their top 6 status and the best of the rest in the Premier League is still plenty wide. Sean Dyche has had a storybook season at the helm of this season’s most surprising team in the table, and Burnley have carried their stingy defence and cohesive squad through most of the season, but they were simply no match for the Gunners on Sunday.
Though Arsene Wenger might have hoped for better-and surely the team is talented enough to expect more- the 2018 version of The Arsenal has more or less been the 6th best team in the Premier League this season. It might have been a very different story for the Gunners had they signed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang just a few months earlier in the summer, but the whole squad has simply been too inconsistent this season to give Wenger a truly successful send off. The team has looked energetic in the last few Premier League matches since the Wenger announcement, and there is much to be excited about in the coming seasons when looking at the youngsters coming into the team. Compared to the impossibly high standards he had set for himself and the club previously, his final season will likely go down as a disappointment, but a 6th place finish after the up and down season at Arsenal will leave few feeling hard done by in retrospect.
A BF Goodbye
With Sunday’s match being the final home game in Arsene Wenger’s 22 year career, it was always going to be a day about him. However, there was another much-adored figure taking his last bow on the Emirates pitch as Per Mertesacker was also given the opportunity to say goodbye to the fans for the last time as an Arsenal player. The German will not be going far next season, however, as he will be assuming control of the Arsenal Academy after he officially retires following the season.
In his final season as a player and Arsenal captain, Mertesacker assumed more of an off the pitch coaching and leadership role in preparation for his transition this summer. In spite of this, Mertesacker still made 11 appearances in non-friendlies this season, scoring 2 goals and bagging an assist in his limited minutes. Mertesacker has continued the recent succession of Arsenal captains who have spent much of their final season with the team not on the pitch, but he has taken to his duties with relish. Young defenders in the team still speak about how the German has helped them as much as any player since arriving at the club, and he will be a serious but well-liked leader of the academy going forward. Mertesacker had a wonderful career, spanning from the Bundesliga to the Premier League, and he was more than deserving of the send off to his playing career he received on Sunday.
Heading into this season, Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was ready for a change. Despite playing for one of the most exciting and best supported teams in Europe, Aubameyang had grown restless in the Ruhr, having accomplished all he was likely to do in the Bundesliga. His relatively advanced age by this point meant that his dream move to Real Madrid was likely no longer a possibility, but he still had a desire to test himself elsewhere in Europe. Arsenal, who were looking for a striker in the summer and ultimately signed Alexandre Lacazette, were interested but elected to hold firm and end their summer shopping spree.
Fans will always question whether his arrival in the summer rather than January could have made a difference for the Gunners’ tumultuous season, but one thing is for certain; he has been nearly unstoppable since arriving in North London, especially when paired with fellow striker Alexandre Lacazette. The duo bagged a hat trick of goals between them, with Aubameyang securing a brace of his own. The fears that the two goal hungry strikers would immediately be at odds with each other, competiting for the same role in the side, have all but dissipated following their fast bond both on and off the pitch. Moving forward in the post-Wenger Arsenal world, there will be a lot of question marks over positions and players in the team, but in his last season in charge, Wenger finally managed to sort out the striker situation.
Team Selection Impresses
Perhaps the most significant silver lining of Arsenal being out of contention in all competitions this season has been the rotation of the team in the last few Premier League matches. The Gunners are likely to finish the 6th place team for the 2017/18 season, and Arsene Wenger has used the opportunity to explore changes in his usual starting XI. Of those players getting an increased opportunity is young Greek defender Konstantinos Mavropanos, who has quickly piqued the excitement of fans with his ease on the ball and physical style most unlike anything else currently in the team. He started his second consecutive match in the Premier League for the club, and aside from Per Mertesacker drawing a cheer every time he touched the ball after coming on, Mavropanos was the player fans were most excited to see.
Hector Bellerin and Alex Iwobi, two of the most polarising players in the team, were also given starts and impressed on the day, with both able to pick out teammates for assists while playing 90 minutes of near mistake-free football. Jack Wilshere put in a vintage performance on Sunday, driving the team forward with a technical proficiency and confidence that might have made a strong case for his inclusion in the England World Cup squad this summer. Henrikh Mhkitaryan was effective playing high up the pitch in support of the strikers, and he too has made a quality case for himself going forward. The team gave a complete performance to beat such a strong Burnley team 5-0, and the players selected for Wenger’s final match at the Emirates Stadium did not let the boss down, giving him a properly festive afternoon to enjoy his final bow at the stadium he had so much to do with bringing into existence.
Au Revoir Arsene
In spite of the quality football on offer at the Emirates on Sunday, it was the post-match celebration that will steal all of the headlines today after Arsenal gave Arsene Wenger a fitting farewell in his final home game in charge at the club. The boss received an honour guard of his players, past and present, as well as a host of prominent figures from his 22 years at Arsenal. Former Arsenal goalkeeper and coach Bob Wilson capped off the celebration by presenting the Frenchman with the golden 2003/04 Premier League trophy that he and he alone has inspired a team to achieve. It was truly the golden moment of his career, that magical season, and there could have been little else more appropriate to show Arsene Wenger how much he has meant to the club.
Wenger will be stepping down following the season, leaving both he and the club in an unfamiliar position for the first time in over 2 decades. No matter how some fans had come to loathe the very though of him continuing on at the helm of Arsenal, there is simply no denying his importance to the club. Arsene Wenger is he best manager in the history of Arsenal, and he will be honoured as such. There is nothing left to do now but to give the man thanks; thanks for all of the trophies, the memories, and the invaluable life lessons. He will be missed by some, but he will be a legend in the eyes of all. Au Revoir Arsene.