The sun was shining in North London yesterday. As we walked down Holloway Road and then turned towards The Tollington, we could hear singing hundreds of meters away. As we got closer we could understand what they were singing about…
We almost won the league! we almost won the league! and now you believe us…
Anyone who tells you Arsenal fans don’t have a sense of humor can take it. There was a good, almost happy mood around the stadium. Whatever else happened in the last few weeks, people seemed determined to enjoy the good things this season had delivered.
On the pitch, Mikel Arteta picked the same team that battled Nottingham Forest, but this time the domination turned into goals. Fittingly, in what appears to be his last game for the club, Granit Xhaka opened the scoring with a header from Gabriel Jesus’ cross. It was interesting to watch the way the Brazilian operated from the flank in this match, with Bukayo Saka spending more time inside than usual.
When Xhaka added the second, his song was sung with enthusiasm. The Wolves fans below tried to sing some ‘bantz’ but were immediately drowned out by Arsenal fans singing about how we almost won the league. What could they actually say, what could possibly matter? Nothing.
I was happy to see Bukayo Saka back to scoring goals after a relatively poor period, allowing him to celebrate both a goal and a new contract. He got kicked a bit, had a few minutes in the first and second half, but the quality of his goal was outstanding. The speed with which he touched the ball and then curled the keeper was top-notch – I’m looking forward to more performances like this next season.
I think Wolves made a few changes at half-time, and the only reason I can remember is that one of them tapped Saka early on. He stayed for a while before being replaced by Reiss Nelson. Of course, I hope he’s okay, but not okay just long enough to miss having to go on international duty.
Gabriel Jesus scored his fourth goal with a header on Trossard’s cross from behind before Jakub Kiwior scored his first goal for the club. I have to watch it again, but I don’t think it’s the goal of the season. Still, a nice moment for him.
The substitutes came in, it was nice to see Emile Smith Rowe alive, but it was more about who left. Xhaka received a huge ovation as he left the pitch, most likely for the last time. “We want you to stay!” the crowd sang, but I think it was one of those performances where most people knew it wasn’t going to happen, but sang it anyway. Too bad he didn’t get a hat-trick, he had a chance in the first half but he felt disgusted by a very representative opportunity and looked disgusted with himself. Still, catching a pair in his last game seems like a good way to end this redemption story.
Much like last season’s Finals, the metaphorical presence of an opponent on the beach was useful. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful way to end the season. As “Allez, Allez, Allez!” The song went on for what felt like an eternity towards the end, people dancing on their feet, just having fun in the sunshine.
We all know what could have been this season, we know the demands will be higher next time, but there was no sense of recrimination. Only determination to enjoy the unique escape football can provide. Communion of 60,000 people – minus a few Wolves fans who found their best efforts were basically useless – just had fun.
Basically everyone was left for a lap of appreciation. First the Arsenal women who won the Conti Cup. Martin Odegaard said a few words. Then Mikel Arteta tried, but the deafening sound of his song echoing around the ground meant he had to wait… and wait… and wait… with a smile on his face as he did so. He thanked the fans from around the world, and then the competitors completed their lap to thunderous applause from all sides.
At this point, I stepped out into the late evening sun to spend the rest of the evening with friends. Arteta spoke about bringing success and trophies to the club, but also enjoying the journey and company. Who am I to argue with him? That’s what I did yesterday, that’s what I’ve been trying to do all season. That’s not to say the painful parts don’t hurt, it’s just that other things are worth prioritizing.
There will be more time for deeper analysis. Summer is long and we have many days to talk about it all from the inside out. However, not this morning. I have to come back to Dublin after an unforgettable weekend, not only because of the live events, special guests and good friends, but also because of this football club and how it combines all these things in such a special way.
You must stop to smell the flowers along the way.
James and I will prepare an Arsecast Extra for you, but we won’t be recording until tonight, so be patient.
For now, have a nice Monday.