It’s rare for a team the size of Arsenal to have nothing at all to play for. And yet, here we are. The only small thing that might even be remotely considered “stakes” in this game is that Arsenal will pretty much seal up sixth place with a win over seventh-place Burnley, but is anyone happy about that? Really? I know I’m not. I’m not exactly mad about it, it’s just where Arsenal are right now, but I can’t be bothered to get all spun up about it, either.
No, the playing part of tomorrow’s game is completely irrelevant to me, and probably is to you as well. The relevant part of tomorrow’s game is that tomorrow’s Arsene Wenger’s last game in charge of Arsenal at the Emirates, since the scheduling gods threw the perfect narrative ending a curveball and set up the last two games of the season on the road.
Tomorrow, then, is the last chance for the Emirates faithful, many of whom were also Highbury faithful, and many of whom have been Arsenal faithful even before Wenger’s presence on the touchline, to show Wenger what he’s meant to them over his career.
Sunday should be about respect. It’s about forgetting what has transpired in the last 10 years and focusing on what happened in the first 10. It’s about showing Arsene Wenger the adoration his innumerable accomplishments have earned. It’s about appreciating the man who put Arsenal in the position they are now, physically and otherwise.
What is Sunday not about? Sunday’s game. Forget that, forget the muscle memory that kicks in when something dumb happens that says “that’s on Arsene”. Of course it is, but that’s irrelevant in a game that is also irrelevant. Let this day be a celebration.
So with that in mind, I ask a favor of you. If you choose to watch the game - and there are equally valid reasons not to watch as there are to watch, particularly from the remove of the USA and the couch/bar/wherever - put aside, for 90 minutes, your anger at how Arsenal have performed in the last few seasons and why that has been the case. Put down the rage that will inevitably rise up when Arsenal give up one of their Trademark Stupid Goals. Put away, just for a day, the natural and correct urge to blame and get mad at Arsene Wenger for leading the team down this blind alley that has turned out to have a big brick wall at the end of it.
Just for tomorrow, put all that aside, and try to appreciate the fact that if not for the stubborn, willful, singularly influential gray haired gentleman in the Arsenal blazer (or jacket, depending on weather), none of us would be here right now, talking about how dire things seem. It’s easy to forget with a short time horizon, but Arsene Wenger did some absolutely amazing, revolutionary, and far-reaching things at Arsenal, and as his career winds down I don’t want any of that to be forgotten.
It’s clearly (past) time for him to go - I don’t think anyone would dispute that. And I say that as a person who defended him far longer than most. But as he goes off into that metaphorical Arsenal sunset, it’s my most fervent wish that he goes out on a sedan chair carried by Arsenal supporter good wishes for all he’s done, rather than unceremoniously shoved out on to the side of the road out of a still-moving van as it peels away in a cloud of dust.
Arsenal v. Burnley
Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, May 6, 2018
8.30AM PT/11.30AM ET/4.30PM BT