Arsenal 4 West Ham 1: Wenger's long farewell begins in style
Arsene Wenger's long farewell to Arsenal started with a 4-1 Premier League win over West Ham as the Emirates Stadium faithful finally united behind the veteran manager.
The 68-year-old put an end to the enduring speculation over his future on Friday when it was announced he would stand down at the end of the season, and a late goal from Aaron Ramsey allied to Alexandre Lacazette's double helped kick-start the leaving party on Sunday.
Having proven a divisive figure in recent seasons, the confirmation that Wenger's 22-year tenure will soon be at an end had a unifying impact on the Gunners' fans, who saw Nacho Monreal's second-half goal cancelled out by a fine Marko Arnautovic strike before Ramsey and Lacazette saved the day.
It provided Wenger, who has gone from being a relative unknown upon his arrival to the Premier League in 1996 to attaining legendary status, with his 474th English top-flight victory from 825 matches.
The man who once led Arsenal on a 49-game unbeaten run in the league still has time to add to his 17 trophies with the club – a haul that includes three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups – with a Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid to come.
Rumours will continue to gather momentum regarding who will replace the division's longest-serving boss, but that person will follow in the footsteps of one of football's most exceptional managerial talents, who received the acclaim of the fan base after the hosts' late rally.
Meanwhile, David Moyes' side must continue to look nervously over their shoulders, but the finish line is in sight and they still have a six-point cushion over the bottom three.
It's been ringing around the Emirates...
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) April 22, 2018
Wenger insisted prior to kick-off that his full focus was on the match at hand, with his side seeking to bounce back from last weekend's loss to Newcastle United and move further clear of seventh-placed Burnley.
Although the stadium was far from full, the Frenchman was met with a warm ovation from the home fans, in stark contrast to the many anti-Wenger protests and banners that have followed 'Le Professeur' in recent times.
On the field, the home side – held 0-0 at London Stadium in the reverse fixture – made a confident start against a West Ham outfit unchanged from their crucial last-gasp draw against Stoke City.
A slick attacking move saw Monreal force a corner from which Laurent Koscielny headed narrowly wide after leaping high above Cheikhou Kouyate.
David Ospina, in for the injured Petr Cech, had to be alert to deny Arnautovic after Arsenal were caught out by a long ball down West Ham's left wing, while Kouyate's awkward looping header clipped the top of the Colombian goalkeeper's crossbar.
Woeful finishing from Hector Bellerin brought an end to a moment of promise for Wenger's side, with Arthur Masuaku breathing a sigh of relief after he failed to complete a simple clearance.
After Danny Welbeck's scuffed attempt from the edge of the box, Joe Hart was finally called into action to repel Granit Xhaka's free-kick.
With his remaining half-time team talks at Arsenal now numbering single figures, Wenger clearly got his message across in this one and the Gunners were ahead six minutes after the restart.
Xhaka's corner found Monreal and his volley, though not sweetly struck, had enough on it to beat Hart and break the deadlock.
3 - Nacho Monreal has scored three goals in his last seven Premier League appearances - as many as he had in his first 153 games in the competition. Flurry. pic.twitter.com/y7AhExqnf6
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 22, 2018
Arsenal, who have one home league match remaining this season, were pegged back just past the hour mark when Arnautovic fired a superb effort beyond Ospina after collecting substitute Manuel Lanzini's toe-poked pass.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a surprising omission from the starting line-up, was introduced for the final 20 minutes as Arsenal set about restoring their advantage and they did so in fortuitous circumstances.
Youngster Declan Rice bizarrely opted to duck under Ramsey's cross-cum-shot and it nestled in Hart's far corner.
That setback rocked the Hammers and just three minutes later the contest was over, Lacazette providing the finish at the end of a fine Arsenal move that harked back to the golden era under Wenger, whose name rung out around the stadium as his compatriot added the fourth to double his tally in the closing minutes.