WITH one final wave, he was gone.
Arsene Wenger, one of the game’s last great statesman managers, had reached the end of the road.
Twenty two seasons, a host of trophies and a stadium in north London that will forever be a monument to the sterling work of the Frenchman, the Gunners chief bowed out with his head held high.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s predatory strike late in the first half ensured Wenger signed off with the victory sentiment craved.
Huddersfield Town did their best to spoil his day, as Aaron Mooy hit the crossbar and Alex Pritchard caused all manner of problems for the visitors.
But Arsenal displayed the resilience that has too often been lacking during their manager’s latter years to ensure his 1,235th and final game ended on a high.
Much of the afternoon had understandably been about Wenger. He was applauded from the team coach on arrival at the John Smith’s Stadium, applauded on to the field via a guard of honour from both teams ahead of kick-off and then, later, even applauded out of his final press conference in English football.
There was also a standing ovation in the 22nd minute to mark the number of seasons he has ruled the roost in N5.
Wenger acknowledged the ovation by returning the applause of the Terriers fans. It was a lovely moment and one totally in keeping with the off-field class that Yorkshire’s sole representative has brought to the Premier League.
Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane will no doubt back that sentiment, England’s past and present goalscoring talismans having been afforded similarly generous receptions from the locals when visiting the West Riding earlier in the season.
As welcome as Wenger was made on his swansong, however, the biggest cheer of the afternoon was reserved for chairman Dean Hoyle’s response during half-time to a question about whether David Wagner will still be at Huddersfield next season.
“I don’t see why not?” said the Town owner, on the pitch at the time, to a huge roar. With good cause, too, as the steep rise this club has enjoyed under the charismatic German has been nothing short of remarkable.
Promotion against all the odds last season was a huge achievement. But even that glorious day under the Wembley Arch has been eclipsed by Wagner’s men staying up this time around.
Despite starting the campaign with only Tom Ince and Jonathan Hogg boasting any previous top flight experience, Huddersfield have looked right at home among the elite.
Promotion against all the odds last season was a huge achievement. But even that glorious day under the Wembley Arch has been eclipsed by Wagner’s men staying up this time around.Richard Sutcliffe
Sure, there have been a few wobbles along the way with home and away defeats against Everton standing out as particularly low moments for a side widely written off almost from the moment Christopher Schindler had scored ‘that’ penalty under the Arch.
Wagner, however, never once wavered from his belief that safety was Town’s destiny and that confidence seeped through to the players.
There will undoubtedly be interest in the 46-year-old this summer. Leicester City have been strongly linked with a move for weeks, as have Wagner’s old club Borussia Dortmund.
Hoyle’s words, therefore, reassured a capacity crowd who, along with being able to pay tribute to Wenger, were treated to an entertaining contest.
That Huddersfield’s endeavours were not rewarded with at least a point was a shame.
But, in taking the game to Arsenal in such a bold manner, the Terriers once again showed enough to suggest next season can see further progress made by Town.
Pritchard, along with Terence Kongolo an astute January signing whose arrival improved Huddersfield hugely, was everywhere.
His well-timed run and deft pass inside to set up Ince in the 12th minute deserved a lot better than a shot that flew high and wide of the target.
Ince was equally wasteful just a couple of minutes later when again released by Pritchard’s vision and the hosts were made to pay for this double miss seven minutes before half-time.
Lovely approach play involving Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alexandra Lacazette was followed by Aaron Ramsey darting clear down the Town right flank.
His drilled cross then evaded all but Aubameyang, who slid in at the back post to convert from a couple of yards out.
Huddersfield had lost their way in the 10 or so minutes preceding what proved to be the only goal of the game and could not complain about falling behind.
Their response after the break, however, was impressive as Ince, again fed by Pritchard, brought a fine save from David Ospina.
Hogg then had a thunderbolt of a shot blocked before a late onslaught saw Mooy clip the top of the crossbar and Laurent Depoitre power a header that Ospina held on the line.
A couple of Arsenal players took exception to Mathias ‘Zanka’ Jorgensen trying to stab the ball over the line when in the hands of their goalkeeper but it was a flashpoint that passed quickly.
Moments later, the final whistle blew and Wenger’s reign was over. A pitch invasion prevented the Gunners chief from taking one final bow in front of the 2,300 Gunners fans who had made the trip north but he was still able to bid ‘au revoir’ with one final wave before heading down the tunnel one last time.
English football is unlikely to see his kind again.