The sun was shining in North London yesterday. As we strolled down Holloway Road, then turned towards The Tollington, we could hear singing from hundreds of yards away. As we got closer, we could make out what was being sung …
We nearly won the league! we nearly won the league! and now you’re gonna believe us …
Anyone who tells you Arsenal fans have no sense of humour can stick it. Around the stadium the mood was good, almost jubilant. Whatever else had transpired in the last few weeks, it felt like people were determined to enjoy the good stuff this season had delivered.
On the pitch, Mikel Arteta picked the same side that struggled against Nottingham Forest, but this time the dominance was turned into goals. Fittingly, on what appears to have been his last game for the club, Granit Xhaka opened the scoring with a header from a Gabriel Jesus cross. It was interesting to note the way the Brazilian operated from the flanks in this game, with Bukayo Saka spending more time centrally than we’re normally used to.
When Xhaka added the second his song was sung with gusto. Wolves fans below tried to engage in some ‘bantz’ but were immediately drowned out by Arsenal fans singing about how we nearly won the league. What could they actually respond with that would have made any difference? Nothing.
I was pleased for Bukayo Saka to get back to scoring ways after a relatively lean spell of late, allowing him to celebrate both the goal and the new contract. He got kicked around a bit sadly, spending a few minutes down in the first and second half, but the quality of his goal was outstanding. The speed with which he took a touch then curled the beyond the keeper was top class – I look forward to many more of those next season.
I think Wolves made a couple of changes at half-time, and the only reason I remember is one of them clattered Saka early on. He stayed down for a while before being replaced by Reiss Nelson. Obviously I hope he’s all right but also not all right for just enough time to miss out on having to go away on international duty.
Gabriel Jesus got the fourth, heading in a Trossard cross at the back, before Jakub Kiwior scored his first goal for the club. I need to watch it again, but I don’t think it will win goal of the season. A nice moment for him all the same.
Subs came on, it was nice to see Emile Smith Rowe is alive, but it was more about who went off. Xhaka got a big ovation as he left the field, more than likely for the last time. “We want you to stay!”, sang the crowd, but I think it was one of those renditions where most people knew that’s not going to happen but sang it anyway. It was a shame he couldn’t get the hat-trick, there was a first half chance to do that but he whiffed at a very presentable opportunity and looked disgusted with himself. Still, to bag a couple in his final game seems a nice way for that redemption arc to finally conclude.
Like last season’s final game, the opposition being metaphorically on the beach was useful. Nevertheless it was a lovely way to end the season. As the ‘Allez, Allez, Allez!’ song rang out for what seemed like ages towards the end, people were up on their feet dancing, just having a good time in the sunshine.
We all know what could have been this season, we know the demands will be higher next time around, but there was no sense of recrimination. Only a determination to enjoy the unique escape that football can provide. A communion of 60,000 people – minus a few Wolves fans who discovered their best efforts were essentially useless – just enjoying themselves.
Basically everyone stayed for the lap of appreciation. First up, the Arsenal Women who won the Conti Cup. Martin Odegaard said some words. Then Mikel Arteta tried to but the deafening noise of his song ringing out around the ground meant he had to wait … and wait … and wait … a smile on his face as he did so. He thanked the fans, from far and wide, and then the players did their lap to generous applause from all sides.
At that point, I departed into the late evening sunshine to spend the rest of the evening with friends. Arteta talked about bringing success and trophies to the club, but also to enjoy the journey and the company. Who am I to argue with him? That’s what I did yesterday, it’s what I have tried to do throughout this season. It doesn’t mean the hurty bits don’t hurt, it’s just that the other stuff is worth prioritising.
There will be more time for deeper analysis. The summer is long and we have many days to talk about the ins and outs of it all. Not this morning though. I have to head back to Dublin after an unforgettable weekend, not just because of live events and special guests and good friends, but because of this football club and how it brings all those things together in such a special way.
You need to stop to smell the flowers along the way.
James and I will have an Arsecast Extra for you, but we won’t be recording until this evening so bear with us.
For now, have a good Monday.