An Olly Giroud hatrick in the last Premier League fixture of the season, allied to a inexplicably hilarious Spurs implosion 200 miles further north east, meant the Arsenal finished the season in second place with the downward trajectory of the club’s morale arrested.
The sun shone on Ashburton Grove as I took my place in the West stand lower, an alternative to my usual location in the North Bank lower. Given that the crowd mood in the last two home games was as welcoming as a Hamas council of war I felt avoiding the more enthusiastic parts of the stadium may be a more prudent option especially if the match situation went against us.
Taking into account our spluttering recent form even a fixture against already relegated Birmingham Villa could give cause for a degree of trepidation.
The team selection was only surprising in midfield as Santi and Jack both started, at the expense of Elneny and Rambo with Õzzy returning in place of Iwobi. The exclusion of Theo from the squad was a little surprising and that of Rosický a little sad, although there would be more on that later, yet there were songs for him being sung from the start.
The crowd mood was not especially tense yet an early goal would settle the nerves, which is how it panned out.
After some good early pressing, with Santi involved centrally and Jack on the right, a cross was swung in on the opposite side of the pitch from me and Olly hung in the air to thump in a free header; the fact the Villa centre backs were nowhere near him suggested a team with their minds on holidays and then the joys of Championship football.
The reaction of the away fans was odd, an enthusiastic celebration of a goal scored against them was either gallows humour or them mocking the Arsenal fans for having the temerity to celebrate their team scoring a goal.
As a counter thrust Birmingham Villa did attack our weaker right flank, where the pairing of Bellerin and Gabriel was more porous than Nacho and Kozzer.
This gave the manager, ever pensive during a game, some cause for worry.
However having held firm all was going to plan, but as we all knew a win for the Newcastle barcodes was necessary to avoid the cancellation of St Totteringham’s day.
I should point out now that for the first time in my match going life (over 50 games by now) I was at a match where the crowd would suddenly cheer for no pitch-action related reason so what happened midway through the first half was that the North bank to my left exploded into noise and cheering. Mutterings around me were of Newcastle taking the lead and as the news spread along the West stand down to the Clock end the first (IHA) chants were heard:
It’s happened again, it’s happened agaaaaa-in,
Tottenham Hotspur, it’s happened again
Rambo and Joel Campbell, who were warming up in front of me looked at each other and knew what it meant for the team – if things stayed as they were 2nd place and the denial of a the Spuds finishing above us for the first time in 21 years.
A second goal before half time would have settled any nerves but, as a portent of what was to follow, Newcastle scored again and another roar from the North bank signalled this to the rest of us.
Half time saw a pitch side interview with Bobby Pires looking as suave and dashing as when he glided down the left wing at Highbury for us.
The start of the second half showed that every team des their homework on us in that they know we start the second half slowly and so Villa pressed and dominated for a 15 minute spell; Bellerin’s tendency to maraud up field coupled with Gabriel being turned rather too easily meant that most of the Villa attacks came down our right.
A low buzz swept the lower tiers as news of a Spud goal and a Newcastle sending off turned up the tension a little, but the mood stayed mainly supportive despise some Alexis turnovers and misplaced crosses.
Then another roar from the North bank lower and news of Newcastle scoring a third and the IHA shouts started again.
What happened next was something wonderful – the “Stand up if you hate Tottenham” started, the North Bank of course, but unusually everyone joined in, even the West and East stand so the players would see a wall of standing, singing fans.
I’m sure I saw Õzzy look up after a finished dribble and wonder what was going on – but the thing was the urgency level of the team upped as the crowd volume rose with more IHA’s.
Some slick interplay in front of me, on the right side of Villa’s penalty area, highlighted Õzzy’s amazing close control – while this won’t be news to many to see it up close will always be a joy.
Further probing, a one-two with Alexis, and Õzzy swung in a cross and then time slowed. It seemed to take an age for Olly’s left boot to swing, scythe like, in a low, slow arc and slice the ball up and over the flapping Villa goalie.
A release of the tension that built up from the resumption exploded in all corners of the stadium, and your humble scribe indulged in many a heaven ward directed fist pump.
Newcastle scored another as more IHA’s were ringing around the stadium and then more comedy when a pitch invader emerged from the red Action corner and caused an Arsenal attack to be halted as he was wrestled to the ground by a steward, the other stewards eye rolling their disapproval of the loutish behaviour.
The fervour of the crowd pushed the team on to attack more and surely enough one of Bellerin’s many forward dribbles allowed him to thread a ball though for Olly to, again with his swinging mace of a left foot, slot home his hat trick goal. A flurry of four goals in two games ending his career worst goal drought.
With the game won Jack was subbed and was Santi with Õzzy making way for Arteta to make a farewell appearance.
There was a touch of Hollywood about his only involvement in him crashing in a shot after being set up by an Alexis cross – the way he leapt in celebration must showing what this club meant to him. Of course it was marked as an own goal yet the euphoria he felt in that moment in time can’t be taken away from him, he’ll cherish that for the rest of his days.
The release of emotion he showed at the final whistle attested to that.
A satisfying 4 nil win, a share of the golden glove for Cech (at the very least) and second place snatched from the hands of the hapless Middlesex Spuds – something we all wished for before the game, but seemed unlikely.
The many mocking Tottenham songs sang at the final whistle reinforced the feel good factor washing around, something scarcely believable after the happenings of the Norwich game.
A guard of honour was formed for another departing stalwart of the club, Tomas Rosický and then the lap of appreciation.
After the lap finished there were a few requests for “Wilshere, Wilshere, sing us a song” and then the players off spring played on the pitch, Santi’s son looking particularly useful with his tricks and flicks.
While the season has been a disappointment the events of the last day meant the Arsenal faithful did not start their summer in melt down but with some hope for next season.
See you all then.
By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)