Thierry Henry ended Arsenal’s stay at Highbury with a hat-trick to lead his team to a 4 – 2 win over Wigan, while Spurs defeat to West Ham meant that the Gunners clinched 4th place in the Premiership, guaranteeing them qualification for next season’s Champions League.
The other match in North London between West Ham and Spurs had earlier been in doubt following news that up to 10 members of the Spurs squad had come down with food poisoning. Spurs had eaten in a local hotel where they were staying prior to the match, and it seems a dodgy lasagna may be at fault.
Spurs had requested 24 hours delay, but following police advice that they could not sanction more than a short delay, and the likelihood of Spurs being docked points if they called the match off, the decision was made to go ahead. Supposedly some of their team members were vomiting immediately prior to taking the pitch.
Apparently police and health and safety officers are investigating the matter, but results will not be forthcoming for a few days. Reportedly Spurs are considering what, if any, legal routes they can pursue regarding compensation for losing out on up to £10 million due to failure to qualify for the Champions League.
Further north, Highbury looked magnificent, with an immaculate pitch with the Highbury Final Salute logo cut into the grass, and giant red and white stripes in the crowd all around the stadium due to the commemorative t-shirts given to all supporters that managed to get tickets to the match. The Wigan supporters all were given blue t-shirts, and witnessed their team providing decent opposition – they were not there just to make up the numbers.
Arsenal opened the scoring when Robert Pires netted on the second attempt at close range. This was soon followed by the news that West Ham had taken the lead in the match against Spurs. The party mood was spoiled somewhat when Wigan scored an equaliser with Scharner getting on the end of Thompson’s free kick to poke the ball past Lehmann into the net. This was followed not long after by a second goal for Wigan, when Thompson took advantage of Lehmann’s positioning and fired in a curving free kick from long range that left the German keeper scrambling innefectually to get to the ball in time.
However, all was not lost, and Henry soon latched onto a Pires through ball and slotted past Pollitt to equalise shortly before half time. However, moods were dampened quickly when news came through that Spurs had equalised. Half time came with Spurs holding onto 4th place.
The second half started in much the same way, with Arsenal gradually dominating the match – though Wigan did pose a threat on the break. The crowd groaned as they heard that Teddy Sherringham had failed to score from the penalty spot against his old club. However, spirits were soon soaring when Henry latched onto a poor back-pass by Thompson, took the ball round the keeper, and cooly slotted home to edge the Gunners into 4th place.
As the half progressed, nerves were on edge. Freddie Ljungberg came on, and moments later he was brought down in the box by Johansson – himself barely on the pitch. Referee Rennie showed him the red card – presumably for preventing a clear goal-scoring opportunity, and Henry stepped up to take the penalty. He sent Pollitt the wrong way, and sealed his hat-trick with a kiss of the Highbury turf.
Minutes later, Jose Antonio Reyes and Alexander Hleb were subsituted for Robin van Persie and, in his last competitive match for Arsenal, Dennis Bergkamp. As the Dutchman was welcomed onto the pitch by the fans, the cheers became more joyous as it became clear that West Ham had scored. The last ten minutes were tense, though Bergkamp and Gilberto both had chances.
Two minutes of added time seemed to stretch on for eternity, but finally Rennie blew the whistle and the end of an era came to Highbury. The party started in earnest soon thereafter as the result at West Ham was confirmed, and Champions League football was confirmed for the Gunners next season, regardless of the result in Paris on May 17th.
The Final Farewell to Highbury continued on with a marching band, Arsenal legends, songs from The Who’s lead singer (and Gooner) Roger Daltrey, Thierry Henry being presented with the Golden Boot (again!), fireworks, and a “sky banner” flown by a helicopter circling the area. In addition to the Golden Boot as the Premiership’s leading goalscorer, Henry also won the FA’s Premiership Player of the Year, as well as the PFA’s Player of the Year award (voted by the press). Hopefully he’ll add a Champions League winners medal to that list in 10 days.
There’s a full match report, photos, and more over at Arsenal.com.
Here’s the final standings in the Premiership for 2005/6: