The following is a wholly fictional account of what might happen if Arsenal won this season’s Premier League title. The international break provides plenty of opportunity to dream.
Per Mertesacker launches the ball in to the crowd for what feels like the umpteenth time. He turns to the referee, impatiently demanding to know how much stoppage time is left. Martin Atkinson glances at his watch. There are just seconds to go.
The date on Atkinson’s time-piece reads “03/05/14.” Arsenal lead West Brom by a single goal to nil. The air of expectation around the stadium is enormous. Every single one of the 60,000 Arsenal fans crammed in to the Emirates Stadium is acutely aware they they are about to witness history being made. With Manchester City losing to Everton at Goodison Park, Arsenal know the win will make them champions.
West Brom launch one final attack, lofting a high ball in to the Arsenal penalty area. Hearts lurch in to mouths as Jonas Olsson rises to meet the cross. However, Arsenal’s fears are assuaged when Mertesacker does precisely what he has done all season long, reading the game to intercept and nod the ball back towards the halfway line.
Then it happens. Martin Atkinson gives his watch a final look, then puts his whistle to his lips.
It is over. Arsenal are champions.
Mertesacker turns and is immediately embraced by Laurent Koscielncy. The centre-backs who have been the foundation of Arsenal’s title-chasing campaign stumble to the ground, exhausted and elated. They are joined in an ever-expanding bundle by the likes of Mathieu Flamini and Kieran Gibbs: the unheralded foot-soliders without whom Arsenal’s challenge would have collapsed long ago.
Olivier Giroud catches the ball and boots it high in to the crowd. Today, as so often throughout the season, his goal has proved the winner. He will now have a medal to match his Golden Boot.
In the centre circle, Aaron Ramsey falls to his knees. He has already been crowned the PFA Player of the Year, but this is the prize he really craved.
Jack Wilshere sprints from the sidelines to join Ramsey in the middle of the pitch. Wilshere has had to accept a role on the substitute’s bench for much of the campaign, but his delight is not in any doubt.
Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski collect a German flag from the crowd and hold it proudly aloft. Arsenal’s teutonic trio of Ozil, Podolski and Mertesacker have been a key component of their success.
In the stands, there is unadulterated jubilation. Arsenal fans clamber over each other, ignoring the pleas of spoilsport stewards, desperate to get as close as possible to their triumphant heroes. A few plucky fans spill on to the pitch, lifting Bacary Sagna aloft on their shoulders. Sagna announced in March that this season will be his last with Arsenal. It is, in many ways, the perfect goodbye.
Not even the cliched sound of “We are the Champions” belting from the PA system can temper Arsenal’s joy. It is fully 10 years since Arsenal’s last Premier League title. A storm a decade in the making has broken in a hail of red and white ticker tape.
On the touchline, one man stands alone, arms raised aloft in salute to the skies, trademark red tie flapping in the wind. Arsene Wenger has masterminded Arsenal’s triumph, overcoming doubts and criticism that have persisted for many years. This is his redemption. This is his moment.
It’s fitting that Wenger stands alone. It is a fleeting moment of private reflection on the trials and tribulations of the preceding decade. His ability to bring trophies back to Arsenal was questioned by the fans, the media and even himself.
At times, he seemed to carry the burden of Arsenal’s financial impairment single-handedly. Now, finally liberated to bring in stellar names like Ozil, Wenger has dramatically proved his mettle.
In years to come, perhaps this solitary pose will be the one recreated for the statue of the Frenchman that will inevitably adorn the Emirates Stadium’s concourse.
High above Wenger in the director’s box, majority shareholder Stan Kroenke shares a warm handshake with chief executive Ivan Gazidis. Kroenke is a rare visitor to the Emirates Stadium, but even he could not bear to miss this historic occasion.
Surveying the panorama before him, Kroenke can not fail to be moved by the outpouring of feeling. Witnessing the ecstasy unfolding before him, Kroenke begins to understand the huge emotional power of the entity he purchased in April 2011.
It’s more than a franchise. It’s a club. He might own the shares, but in that instant Kroenke realises that the soul of the club will always belong to the 60,000 fanatics frolicking in the stands.
Arsenal celebrate long in to the night, and then beyond in to the summer. Ten years of waiting have taught them to appreciate the good times.
The Gunners supporters finally have the trophy their patience merits. The players have a renewed sense of belief and purpose. Kroenke has a greater understanding of his role as custodian of this remarkable club, and Arsene Wenger has the acclaim he has deserved for years.
Arsenal are champions—and they won’t let go of the trophy without a fight.
James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013/14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.