A raucous celebration of Town’s pundit defying season and a respectful send off for Arsene Wenger at a sunshine bathed John Smith’s Stadium saw Town defeated with few caring.
Given the well publicised revelry that followed the events at Stamford Bridge midweek, it was assumed that Town would turn up and get the ninety minutes over with like a Sunday league team of folklore, and, frankly, who would blame them in a pretty meaningless encounter?
Instead, the home side harried and gegenpressed the Gunners in an opening 25 minutes which should have seen them comfortably ahead before the movement and quality of Arsenal undid all the hard work to hand Wenger a final victory and relieve him of the ignominy of serial failure away from home in 2018.
Perhaps because they were freed from the tension and fear of relegation, and maybe because the formation adopted by Wagner in the monumental performances at Manchester City and Chelsea has unleashed greater potential as a team, Town flew at the visitors from the off creating opportunities for Mounié from a Hadergjonaj cross and Schindler from a corner cleverly knocked down by the Benin striker before Ince blazed over when free in the area following great work by Pritchard.
Arsenal were barely in the contest at this point, but the miss epitomised Town’s ongoing problem of not taking opportunities when presented, a flaw which must be rectified in the close season, and poor Tom Ince’s as an individual. He played well, clearly has a good touch and a decent footballing brain, but his lack of goals is genuinely baffling. He ended his afternoon with a nice strike which was well saved by the excellent Ospina, and, hopefully, next season will be a happier one for him.
On 22 minutes, the stadium stood to applaud Wenger’s career in English football. The ovation was moving and respectful, though it was also refreshing to hear Town fans chanting about Arsenal fans’ hypocrisy and the comeback from the Londoners that Herbert Chapman’s departure was as a result of us being less than good. Both claims were flawed – you can simultaneously hold two thoughts in your head without hypocrisy and Town were very, very good when Herbert upped sticks, but irreverence punctured the sanctimony quite nicely.
With Pritchard buzzing around Arsenal’s suspect back 4, Mounié winning his aerial battles and the midfield coping well with the visitors more illustrious individuals, it was a half of no little promise for the Terriers ruined only by Arsenal demonstrating a rare moment of class with a combination which bamboozled the hosts and ended with Aubameyang sliding home the winner on 38 minutes.
If the goal was harsh on Town, it served to emphasise that shunning chances to score will almost inevitably cause you pain, particularly when the opposition features players of high quality.
The second half of a surprisingly entertaining game saw Arsenal create more chances with their movement and awareness of space only to be thwarted by a combination of excellent interventions and poor final passes.
In turn, Town continued to play with verve and spirit, comfortable in their relatively new formation, and had Arsenal under decent spells of pressure. Depoitre, the hero of Stamford Bridge came on for Ince to rousing acclaim and added a physicality up front to Mounié’s more subtle skills.
The change made Town more vulnerable to Arsenal’s swift counter attacking but increased the possibility of an equaliser they deserved. It nearly came in the final 5 minutes. A deft touch by Löwe set up Mooy whose dipping effort hit the bar before Depoitre’s header was saved to his right by Ospina to deny the hosts a fitting end to their remarkable season.
A good natured afternoon’s entertainment focused, rightly, on Wenger’s departure, but in and amongst the tribute to him, Dean Whitehead was afforded a well deserved ovation a few minutes from the end, the P4P9 cyclists were lauded for their considerable efforts and Dean Hoyle – a participant himself – addressed his adoring public with the class and humility we have come to know and love.
A second season in the top league is a great opportunity for the club to progress and the leadership of Hoyle and, hopefully, Wagner will be fascinating to watch. We have seen the demise of teams who somehow lose their identity – Swansea and Stoke, notably – a trap in to which these two are highly unlikely to fall.
Thanks for reading this season, and have a great Summer.
Until August then…