There was something most peculiar about Arsene Wenger’s last game as Arsenal manager at Old Trafford.
It wasn’t that the United fans, many of whom spent 22 years calling him a paedophile, gave him a rousing reception. That was expected.
Nor was it Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson acting like best mates while Jose Mourhino desperately tried to join his more respected peers. He’s been trying to do that since he first ran down the sideline of Old Trafford when he was Porto manager.
No, it was the lack of emotion that any Arsenal fan seemed to be feeling, at least amongst the fans I know.
Thinking back, it seems incomprehensible that the sides who gave us many of the battles that established the Premier League around the globe as a place of intense rivalry, competition, and drama, could come to this.
Or even that Wenger’s rivalry with Mourinho could ever end with a hug in full view of the world.
We went to Old Trafford with a side reminiscent of the one that lost 8-2, one of many games that should have been a real turning point in Wenger’s Arsenal tenure, but ultimately changed nothing.
Looking like he’d eaten Mustafi as a pre-match snack, ‘Dinos’ acquitted himself well. Perhaps the most notable thing about his appearance, however, was that he also served as a quite visible reminder of the lightweights we’ve come to expect back there.
I thought we played quite well, the kids putting their more senior pros to shame for many of their away performances this season. But that’s how low expectations have become at Arsenal. As long as we don’t get battered, it’s almost as good as a win.
A win. Something we still haven’t managed on the road in 2018, the only side in across Europe’s top five leagues. I know that because Sky told us at halftime. After 22 years, they’re still having to create new stats just to explain Arsene Wenger.
“It’s a sickener but overall I believe the positive performance was there, and some players stood up to the level that was requested and showed a big quality,” Wenger told Arsenal Player after the game. Matches at Old Trafford tend to be ‘sickeners’ more often than not.
“I would say our central defence has done well. Mavropanos, who nobody knew before, has done well. Maitland-Niles has done well too. Of course we know the experienced players who played, but Iwobi did well in the first half too, and tired in the second half. Overall these are all players who have shown great qualities.”
It’s hard to argue with any of that, but we still lost. There are no prizes for positive performances.
In the end, all the game against Manchester United was, was another 90 minutes chalked off Wenger’s countdown.
It was also a chance for many to have a dig at the Emirates crowd, praising the Old Trafford faithful for giving Wenger a better reception than he got last weekend.
It’s like tese people are wilfully ignorant of facts and circumstances.
Compare the Old Trafford reception, not with Arsenal v West Ham, but against Burnley this weekend in Wenger’s last ever game at the Grove. Then come at me with your nonsense.
Now, it’s all about Thursday night.
We can hope that David Ospina, who thinks it’s a valid tactic to dive behind his line when trying to stop the ball, can’t seem to make his arms function properly, has bricks for hands and seems to struggle to work out where the ball is going to go, will be benched. He has a ‘rib injury’ which is fortunate.
We’ll dream of one final magnificent night at which to sing Arsene Wenger’s name as if it was 2004 once again.
We’ll hug our mates and believe that this time – this time – they will be able to abandon glorious failure and grasp some pure glory.
But in our hearts, we’ll know the truth, that those days are gone and Arsene is leaving us, not with a bang but with a whimper.