But it was of course in honour of Dennis Bergkamp and quite a few people had made the effort to get kitted out in his Dutch national colours. Outside the ground while meeting up with my brother-in-law Stuart and my nephew Alec, both sporting orange t-shirts on their last pilgrimage to Highbury, I spotted Bernard with a small surplus of orange DB10 t-shirts that he kindly shared. It's the first time in a while that I've fitted into an ‘M' shirt size and John was fairly amazed that an ‘XL' did the job for him. On arrival at my seat, row 12 in the West Lower and borrowed from Marion for this match, I was handed another shirt by a gentleman in the row behind, this one was not only bright orange with DB 10 plastered on it's front and back but also had a huge ‘R' which helped spell out a human DENNIS BERGKAMP over our two rows. Impressive or what?
We even saw one kid all in orange including a hat that had a Dutch windmill on top. So well done to RedAction and the Club because it just goes to show what can be done if enough fans make the effort. Nothing less than the great man deserved of course, but well-meaning gestures do not always come off this well, so congratulations to everyone who made it happen. On an altogether more serious note, both teams today sported special black armbands in remembrance of the Hillsborough tragedy which no fan old enough to be around on 15th April 1989 will ever be able to forget. It could have happened to any of us.
Van Persie started up front with the main man but it was a ball from Diaby that nearly put him through early doors. Hleb with a break and good cross. Eboue playing as winger with a decent run and ball to Henry. A great ball from Senderos to Flamini who cut in for a shot. Another Eboue run, who was working well with Hleb on our right flank, found Hleb who in turn found Diaby but his shot was weak. Senderos played a ball straight to Kamara and an early shot by Quashie was not far past the post. By and large however Arsenal were in control but Henry was a tad below par and we didn't really get much of our flowing football working.
The Baggies were working hard, closing well, getting stuck in and were often ably assisted by Mike Dean. Dean missed rather a lot of shirt tugging, ankle tapping, shoves, the odd elbow and he wouldn't know what a real advantage was even if it bit him in the arse.
Clement shot over with a free kick from outside our box. Van Persie was making some decent runs but he wasn't always aware of a well-positioned Henry so failed to see the pass. A shoulder charge by Henry gave WBA a free kick. Great ball from Reyes to Henry, one of the few contributions to the match from our Spaniard who was as poor today as he was at Fratton Park. Dean missed yet more holding on Henry. Hleb, Van Persie and Henry combined well but Robin's slipping at the crucial moment it resulted in a deflection for a corner from Henry's shot rather than a goal. Robin was axed and advantage played, with a man on the deck and out of the attack I failed to see any advantage whatsoever. Just retaining the ball after a foul is not necessarily an advantage.
Senderos was turned and Jens fumbled a low cross. While at the other end their keeper Kuszczak, a winning scrabble score if ever I saw one, was out to head clear with Thierry through. Henry to Hleb wide right who hit a great cross which Reyes volleyed well wide. I feel Hleb has at last got the measure of the Premiership and you just have to love his 180 degree turns, and if you notice he can execute them off either foot. A great chance went begging when a killer ball from Gilberto was put wide by Henry with just the keeper to beat. A deflected shot from Wallwork won Albion a corner that was headed over by Davies from Greening's ball in.
Holding and tugging on Van Persie was missed, as was an elbow in the face on Reyes with the lino just yards away. Here was yet another official who could miss a nasty foul but who would gladly flag for a throw if the ball was only partially over the line. Law 9 clearly states that ‘The ball is out of play when it has wholly crossed the goal line or touch line whether on the ground or in the air' and that means the whole of the ball over the whole of the line you folically challenged prat!
Greening shot over and Kamara was late on Flamini. A beautiful ball from Van Persie on our left to get Gilberto in behind them on the right. A Kamara jump at Senderos, not seen. Kanu jumped at Gilberto, also not seen. Flamini won a tackle and fed Reyes who played a ball inside to Hleb. Hleb went on a short slalom style run and played a one-two inside to Henry. He looked like he had too narrow an angle from Henry's return ball for the shot but hammered it left-footed into the roof of the net at the near post. A great goal and 1-0 to the Arsenal.
Dean who was verbally berated by Albion players on a couple of occasions then booked Kolo. Kolo had just been shoved but the free kick had gone against him. I imagine he suggested to Dean that the free kick under no circumstances, other than a ref with a white stick, should have been given to Albion. The free kick was well taken but went all the way through for a goal kick. And that was about it for the half, Albion had given their all but lacked a killer touch, Arsenal you felt had their mind on other games.
After the break more nearly-but-not-quite moves followed from Arsenal within a performance that never totally gelled. Robin to Thierry to win another corner. Henry header after yet more fannying around on the outer reaches of the Clock End penalty area for what seemed to be something approaching about two weeks. How demanding we Gooners are! Having been dished up subliminal football by Le Boss we now demand it every game and in every attack. That said, not for the first time, nor the last did we over-pass the ball when a shot was required by someone, indeed by any bloody one.
Greening shot from long range and wide, Albion invariably failed to get close to our goal other than at set plays. A Diaby break found Thierry Henry. A great ball in from Eboue to Henry but he seemed to take his time and only won a corner. Senderos beat their keeper to the ball and turned in a fine cross but no one was there to finish the job and so we won another corner. Davies on Henry with a worthy tackle. Dennis was by now warming up and the Library nearly got excited. Hleb and Diaby in a good move. Eboue to Van Persie whose shot was blocked. Henry flagged offside when he appeared to be in his own half. Flamini was defending well on the rare occasions it was required.
Kanu was replaced by another Arsenal old boy in Kevin Campbell. We continued with some more nearly-but-not-quite moves and I began to hope we were saving all the killer plays for Wednesday. Now if I was thinking that, then what were the players thinking? At this point a somewhat disgruntled Henry was clearly being saved by Wenger when he was replaced by Adebayor with something under half an hour to play. Gilberto took the captain's armband. Lehmann was out well after Inamoto, yes yet another old boy, replaced Gera. A Reyes solo followed with Van Persie in space but unseen. Wallwork shot from range. Quashie on Hleb for a deserved yellow card. Van Persie took the long-range free kick, drilled it low and won a corner. Reyes took the corner and Gilberto headed it wide. A double substitution followed as Dennis and Rob replaced Alexander and Robin.
The tumultuous applause for Dennis was still going on at full throttle when a long kick by Kuszczak was headed on by Campbell, Eboue slipped and Quashie, who clearly hadn't read the script, took advantage and drilled the equaliser low past Lehmann. 1-1 and Dennis' arrival on the pitch wasn't supposed to be like that. The guy to my right said that it was not a problem as we had our playmakers on now and in the absence of Cesc we had clearly been missing a certain amount of creativity.
It took all of four minutes for us to regain the lead thanks to a combined effort from our three substitutes. Adebayor took a long ball on the right and found Rob inside whose shot was saved but fell to an alert Dennis beyond the far post. God controlled well and laid it in for Pires whose first effort was blocked but who was coolness personified with a second effort that was placed deftly beyond the scrambling defenders on the line into the corner. 2-1 Arsenal and credibility was restored.
A quickly taken free kick by Greening, with Lehmann still sorting a wall, would have worked had he not fired it into the north Bank. Dean greeted Reyes first trip of the day with a yellow card. It was deserved but numerous previous trips by desperate Albion players were not punished in this manner because sides battling against relegation are seemingly allowed to kick just whom the feck they like. That said Albion had little or no luck as the pressed forward in a shit or bust scenario. Especially so when Eboue tangled with the legs of Davies who clearly felt a penalty was justified.
Reyes towards Dennis but the keeper took it well. Adebayor was caught twice in quick succession by their offside trap. A Bergkamp cross was punched clear but in our next attack Eboue, our right winger, with another fine run and cross found Dennis in space and central, helped by a Adebayor run that took a man away. God picked his spot and the shot epitomised the Bergkamp classic goal as it was clipped with the inside of his right foot and bent sweetly and perfectly into the corner with Kuszczak emphatically beaten. 3-1 and the goal we'd all come to see was delivered by the man to whom we'd all come to pay homage.
If Dennis hadn't drifted offside with Pires on a run, Rob may have got in for his second goal. Here were two players one felt who were both showing Le Boss that they worthy of a place in the staring line-up on Wednesday. Dennis to Adebayor to Reyes, but his right foot shot was off target. 3-1 final score
Our third goal was really what the day was all about. ‘We've got Dennis Bergkamp' although not for much longer of course. It's been a joy and a privilege to see his entire Arsenal career because he's given another dimension to both the Club and the Premiership. We surely won't be alone in missing his skill and vision.
One more thought, I would sincerely love the rather unlikely Quashie to be the last opponent ever to score at Highbury, but with four and a half-hours football yet to play at THOF that seems an unlikely scenario. By the way if you're lucky enough to be going to Highbury on Wednesday night for the big game look out for the new issue of ‘The Gooner'. This mag includes a fine aerial shot of our two stadiums in the form of a free poster, plus a couple of free post cards on which you can write asking Henry to please stay. Anything is worth a try The idea for the postcards is another RedAction initiative, so let's hope they work as sweetly as the Dennis Bergkamp day.