The future for Arsenal may not be orange - the 36-year-old striker retires at the end of the season - but yesterday certainly was. Bergkamp Day, so named in appreciation of nearly 11 years with the club, was an unofficial testimonial. His real one will be the first game to be played at the new Emirates stadium.
Yesterday he was introduced with Arsenal leading 1-0, and with 20 minutes remaining. Simply a run-out and reward for all the fans who had donned orange in his honour? If anyone believed so, their opinion was swiftly corrected. Nigel Quashie equalised almost immediately, and suddenly Bergkamp was a man with a mission. He seized the opportunity avariciously.
Within five minutes he had pounced on an error by West Bromwich Bromwich Albion's goalkeeper, Tomasz Kuszczak, and made a goal for Robert Pires, who had come off the bench with him. A minute from time, Bergkamp, produced that touch of composure that had been missing from some of his younger team-mates and ended the match with a goal straight from his repertoire of excellence.
"It would have been disrespectful to bring Dennis on just because it was his day," insisted Wenger. "But it became his day. I needed his vision and someone who was going to give more fluency. He has intelligence and class. He always uses his brain."
Though he won't be involved, Bergkamp's team-mates continue to sweat over a Champions' League place next season. If only neighbours Tottenham, along with Blackburn, Arsenal's rivals for fourth place, had lost points at Everton. They won, and the Gunners' desperate quest for fourth place continues in this most topsy-turvy of seasons. For too many games, Wenger's men have had half an eye on Europe, and yesterday was no exception, with the semi-final against Villarreal on Wednesday inevitably a significant distraction.
Early on, Wenger's men appeared likeliest to procure a breakthrough on the right flank and, from one such thrust, Abou Diaby burst clear, only for the midfielder to attempt, perversely, a pass across to Henry, and the ball was cleared.
Arsenal's most penetrating assault on goal came midway through the half. Robin van Persie and Henry were involved, and Jose Antonio Reyes saw his goal-bound attempt cannon wide off the excellent defender Curtis Davies, who could be a target for Wenger. Then a splendid through ball by Gilberto Silva sent Henry away, but the striker was a touch too clever. In his typically subtle attempt to scoop the ball past Tomasz Kuszczak, the Frenchman also contrived to dispatch it wide of the far post.
Predictably, the visitors deployed one man, Diomansy Kamara up front, as West Brom set in for a rearguard action. But occasional aberrations by the home defence did offer opportunities and, on one foray into their opponents' half, Quashie struck a long-range effort which was wide, but had Jens Lehmann scampering across his goal. Neil Clement also cleared the bar with a free-kick.
Finally, at the other end, Arsenal's pressure told, and it just reward for the industrious Alexander Hleb, who, receiving a ball from Reyes, burst into the area, swapped passes with Henry, and from an acute angle, beat Kuszczak at his near post.
Although Van Persie failed to profit from an Henry ball and Gilberto headed wide from a corner, it looked a matter of the Gunners' playing out time. There was an ovation when Bergkamp appeared. But that sense of euphoria was punctured almost immediately when Quashie steered the ball home with a low drive from outside the area.
Wenger's men duly engaged a further gear. With 15 minutes remaining, Kuszczak failed to hold a shot by Pires, the alert Bergkamp nicked the ball away from him, and cleverly played it back for the Frenchman to volley home from close range at the second opportunity.
Arsenal were still living on their nerves. West Brom's Davies was toppled in the box by Emmanuel Eboué, but the referee, Mike Dean, rejected Albion's penalty appeals. "How the ref missed that I'll never know," declared Robson. "It was a real lash at Curtis Davies. It cost us the game." There was still time, though, for Bergkamp to accept a pass from Emmanuel Adebayor and curl it past Kuszczak with aplomb. The Gunners cling defiantly to Spurs' shirt-tails. For West Brom, their grip on Premiership status appears increasingly tenuous.Reuse content