Welcome to our first installation of ‘Marvelous Memoirs’. As a football fan, one of the aspects of the game that you learn to love is appreciating and remembering key moments, particularly when you may not have realized at the time just how phenomenal those hours were. This time we’ll delve into one of my favorite memories as an Arsenal fan: the final match against Wigan at Highbury in 2006.
The narrative alone was a writer’s dream but it was the drama that made the day so famous. It was famous in content for a multitude of reasons: Dennis Bergkamp’s final game for Arsenal, a 93 year-old stadium’s farewell, Thierry Henry getting the last three goals in Highbury, and, as an Arsenal fan favorite, Arsenal securing Champions League qualification at the expense of Tottenham.
Arsenal was a point behind Tottenham in the table but ahead on goal differential. Arsenal hosted Wigan at home and Spurs played at West Ham. Though a draw and a Tottenham loss would be enough to take Arsenal above their bitter rivals, the only thought on the Arsenal’s mind was to make May 7th, 2006 a day to remember—and they certainly achieved that.
Before the game kicked off, it was Henry already taking center stage and looking on an awesomely coordinated make-over of the stadium as he collected the Player of the Season award, the Golden Boot, and the Football Writers’ award.
In the 6-goal thriller, the famous scoreboard didn’t have to wait long before being put to use. Pires scored a poacher’s goal in the 8th minute, but Arsenal’s euphoria lasted a short couple of minutes when Wigan’s Scharner equalized in the 10th. Nerves rattled and, as Arsenal began thinking of going into half-time level, Wigan stunned Lehmann with a near-post free-kick. Wigan 2-1.
The King, Thierry Henry, eased the 38,359 hearts in the stands as he began scoring the final three goals in the famous grounds. As the commentator said, “It would be inappropriate if Henry didn’t score” and the fantastic Frenchman lit North London up with his golden boots. In the 35th minute he ran onto a through-ball and calmly slotted it in for a 2-2 scoreline going into half.
Arsenal were well aware how the results stood at half-time. Tottenham were poised to take the Champions League spot, but it was not meant to be for the Spurs. In the 56th minute, Henry capitalized on a horribly placed back pass from Wigan, skipped around the Wigan goalkeeper and, cautious to ensure he’d score, passed the ball into the net. 3-2 Arsenal.
Fighting for more of a foothold over their bitter rivals, three euphoric minutes began for Arsenal at the 76th minute-mark. Johanssen yanked down Ljungberg, got sent off, and gave up a penalty kick, which handed Henry an inked quill to write his name in Highbury lore one last time. Henry stepped up to the spot and stroked the ball into the bottom left corner masterfully. He dropped to his knees and paid tribute to the famous ground by kissing the grass and humbly thanking the onlooking faithful. 4-2 to the Arsenal.
The euphoric 3 minutes weren’t past, however. In the 79th minute Dennis Bergkamp made his way to the touchline to grace the stage for the last time in Arsenal colors. Just as he was coming on, the Arsenal faithful had another reason to cheer: West Ham had scored again to lead Tottenham by 2-1.
Arsenal finished above Tottenham Hotspur in the EPL yet again to take the final Champions League spot for themselves. Thinking of the grandeur of that day in North London is one of my favorite memories as a Gunner, and it’s one I’ll never forget.. 4-2 it stood and is the latest scoreline from Highbury
to this day forever.
Fun fact: Ten of Tottenham’s squad players were sick and Spurs suspected foul play in the form of poisoned lasagna. They even threatened to sue the hotel they stayed at and requested the 2-1 loss to West Ham to be replayed. The request was denied and it was found to be a case of Norovirus, not bad lasagna. hehehe
here is a video from YouTube if you would like to re-live the occasion yourself. A fantastic watch Arsenal v Wigan 2006 Farewell to Highbury
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“Highbury is like my garden. There’s just something about Highbury that is difficult to describe. When you first arrive, you hardly see the stadium and wonder where it is but then you find it between two blocks of flats”
– Thierry Henry
“There is something here which you’ll never find wherever you go in the world, this is special, the stadium is special, the history is special”
– Arsene Wenger