One sentence made it all in Arsène Wenger’s farewell tour there could be a degree of relief at Arsenal.
” I will miss you all” .
There is a pretty significant difference between finishing sixth and seventh in this season’s Premier League and, had Arsenal slumped here, it would have opened up the possibility that Burnley might pinch sixth spot from them.
It would have meant Arsenal beginning next season under their new manager in the second qualifying round of the Europa League on 26 July while
Burnley went straight into the group stage of Europe’s second-tier competition. Arsenal are scheduled to face Atlético Madrid on that date in a pre-season friendly in Singapore. They would have had to have cancelled their tour.
Arsenal’s final two matches of the season are at Leicester City and Huddersfield Town and, given their dismal away form in 2018 – they have yet to pick up a point – there could be no guarantee of any rewards. Yet they spared themselves the potentially awkward situation with a comprehensive dismantling of Burnley, who played nothing more than a ceremonial role here.
It says plenty about how far Arsenal have fallen under Wenger this season that the merits of coming in ahead of Burnley in sixth were even up for discussion. But this, at least, was a day in which everything went right, when the supporters could cheer Wenger to the rafters as he entered through a guard of honour and departed with a clutch of mementos, and the team clicked in fine style.
There was even a 13-minute substitute’s cameo for Per Mertesacker, who will retire at the end of the season to take over as the head of the club’s academy, and it threatened to bring the house down. Petr Cech ran from his goal to embrace Mertesacker and the big German’s every touch was cheered.
Stan Kroenke, the majority shareholder, was in attendance and he listened to songs in praise of Wenger throughout. For one sunny afternoon the angst of so much of the season could be forgotten. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice to take his tally for the club to eight in 12 appearances while Alexandre Lacazette, Sead Kolasinac and Alex Iwobi got the others.
Arsenal took charge early on and the breakthrough goal owed everything to Lacazette’s vision and incision. He played a give-and-go with Iwobi, which allowed him to slice into the area, and his driven cross was made to measure for Aubameyang who poked home. It is clear that Aubameyang’s relationship with Lacazette and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will be key to the club in the post-Wenger era.
The fourth member of the LMAO strike-force was absent and it had to be said that Mesut Özil’s back injury was the least surprising feature of the day. The World Cup is looming for the Germany maestro. It is unclear whether he will play against Leicester or Huddersfield.
Lacazette was lively from the first whistle and he got his reward in first-half stoppage time. Iwobi played the pass before the assist and Héctor Bellerín did well to cut back his cross. Lacazette steered a volley inside Nick Pope’s near post.
Arsenal had other flickers through the dangerous Mkhitaryan while they shouted loudly but in vain for a penalty when Kolasinac’s cross hit Matthew Lowton’s hand. Burnley lost Ashley Barnes to a shoulder injury on 20 minutes. The first half passed them by; the second period even more so.
Wenger omitted Shkodran Mustafi, Nacho Monreal and Aaron Ramsey from his starting line-up and there was another opportunity for the 20-year-old Greek centre-half, Konstantinos Mavropanos, who took no prisoners. Twice he cleaned out Barnes’s replacement, Sam Vokes, to the delight of the home crowd, who have missed a bit of Martin Keown-style violence in their team. After Mavropanos’s first challenge on Vokes the fans around the press box chanted Keown’s name. Keown, who was on punditry duty, smiled.
Burnley are going on a European tour, as the travelling fans chanted, but they were AWOL here. Arsenal turned the screw after the interval. Jack Wilshere had lifted a good chance high when he rinsed Jack Cork to tee up Kolasinac while Iwobi smashed the fourth into the roof of the net after a one-two with Aubameyang and statuesque Burnley defending. Bellerín crossed for Aubameyang to score the fifth and Danny Welbeck almost added a sixth only to see a thunderous long-range shot rattle the crossbar.