Arsene Wenger’s 1,235th and final match in charge of Arsenal ended with their first Premier League away win of 2018 as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory at Huddersfield Town.
The 68-year-old was given an emotional send-off with Huddersfield proving empathetic hosts, organising a series of tributes to mark the Frenchman’s last game of his 22-year reign.
Aubameyang, Wenger’s final and most expensive signing and one influenced by the new regime in place to steer the club forward – struck after 38 minutes as the Gunners finish in sixth place, the lowest position under the Frenchman.
The search for his successor will now accelerate with Arsenal keen to make an appointment before the start of next month’s World Cup finals but this was one more chance to toast Wenger’s remarkable impact on English football.
22nd minute round of applause for Arsene Wenger during Hudersfield Town vs Arsenal
Wenger made the unusual move of taking his seat in the dugout just after 2pm, flanked by several members of his coaching staff, affording himself a few moments of reflection.
As he engaged his conversation with his backroom staff, sporadically interrupted for handshakes by well-wishers and autograph hunters, news filtered through that he had left Jack Wilshere, Calum Chambers and Petr Cech back in London due to minor knocks.
Rob Holding partnered Skhodran Mustafi in defence with Konstantinos Mavropanos suspended and Laurent Koscielny injured while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was shifted out wide to accommodate Alexandre Lacazette in a centre-forward role.
Huddersfield manager David Wagner presented Wenger with a framed half-and-half shirt with “1235” on the back as the home side made a point of recognising the Frenchman’s longevity in amongst their own celebrations marking Premier League survival.
Wenger was given a guard of honour by both sets of players and before kick-off he walked to the away end to acknowledge the travelling supporters to warm applause from all four sides of the ground.
These two clubs have links tracing back to Herbert Chapman’s era and the game began with further tributes: a plane flew over the stadium, hired by supporters, with a banner declaring ‘Merci Arsene – We’ll Miss You Too’ in reference to Wenger’s farewell speech at Emirates Stadium a week earlier.
The 22nd-minute triggered a pre-planned minute’s applause in recognition of Wenger’s 22 years at the helm, prompting him to leave his seat in the dugout and raise both hands in salute.
The emotion of the occasion was not enough to wake Arsenal from a slumber away from home which has seen them lose at Bournemouth, Swansea, Tottenham, Brighton, Newcastle, Manchester United and Leicester in 2018.
Steve Mounie headed an early chance straight at David Ospina before Tom Ince wasted a glorious opportunity created by a fine reverse pass from Alex Pritchard. Ince collected the ball inside the box and steadied himself to beat Ospina but could only blaze a shot over the bar.
Arsenal were almost non-existent as an attacking force but sprung into life after 38 minutes. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Lacazette combined to release Aaron Ramsey and he stabbed a cross with the outside of his right foot to the back post where Aubameyang was on hand to convert.
Huddersfield did not muster much of a response until the hour mark, when Ince forced Ospina into a fine one-handed save low to his left with a drilled effort from just inside the box.
It proved the catalyst for a spell of concerted pressure, although one bereft of any clear-cut chances.
As Huddersfield searched for an equaliser, gaps began to appear at the opposite end and Lacazette spurned a superb chance with 10 minutes remaining, electing to try and chip Jonas Lossl but managing only to lift the ball straight into the goalkeeper’s hands.
Substitute Danny Welbeck, on for Aubameyang, then showed strength and speed to create an opening for himself but he was unable to guide a shot past the onrushing Lossl.
Mooy crashed a volley against the top of the crossbar late on before Ospina saved from Laurent Depoitre but Wenger would not be denied his parting gift of one last win.