ARSENE WENGER finally ended his four-year Emirates exile and was probably wondering if he was back at the same stadium.
The stubborn Frenchman has been sulking ever since he was forced out of Arsenal by supporter dissent and he hasn’t been back since his last game in charge in May 2018.
But Fifa’s chief of global football development was finally persuaded to return to the club he had reigned over for 22 years.
And the sheer optimism sweeping around the ground he helped to build must have left him believing that Mikel Arteta is a modern day miracle worker.
For no aspect of Arsenal’s recent transformation has come as a bigger shock than the current manager’s ability to get the previously grumpy fans on board.
Even going behind to a contentious penalty couldn’t dampen the mood around the place before a magnificent second-half comeback allowed them to open up a seven-point lead at the top of the Premier League.
It is now 19 seasons since Wenger lifted the last of his three title trophies and as he looked on from the directors’ box it was hard for him not to get caught up in belief that this young team just might be the real deal.
Goals from Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah were enough to see off a frustrated West Ham team who now sit just one point above the relegation zone.
Hammers boss David Moyes must hate the sight of this place after suffering an 18th away defeat against the Gunners.
Even the absence of Arsenal’s Brazilian talisman Gabriel Jesus was not enough to reverse that depressing trend as Arteta’s men picked up seamlessly from where they left off before the mid-season break for the World Cup.
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And no-one enjoyed themselves more than Nketiah, who was chomping at the bit to show Arteta that he doesn’t need to sign another striker next month because he is more than capable of filling in for the injured Jesus.
It took him just four minutes to open up the West Ham defence with a delicious backheel for Saka to smash one into the top corner.
But the England man had wandered millimetres offside when he touched on the original pass from Martin Odegaard and his effort was ruled out without any need for VAR.
Nketiah had another chance to make his point midway through the first half when he was at the sharp end of a lightning-quick counter from a West Ham corner.
Yet he didn’t have the confidence to go all the way and when he attempted a shot from the edge of the area Vladimir Coufal was able to make an important block.
And minutes later Arsenal were behind when Michail Antonio got in behind their defence and picked out Jarrod Bowen’s surge into the box.
William Saliba lunged in from behind and the West Ham man skipped past the challenge before going down.
Ref Michael Oliver immediately pointed to the spot and though not every camera angle suggested that contact had been made, there wasn’t enough evidence to convince VAR Darren England that a clear and obvious error had been made.
There was still enough of a delay to give Said Benrahma plenty to think about but the Algerian international held his nerve to smash his penalty straight down the middle as Aaron Ramsdale dived left.
If that goal was a surprise for the Arsenal fans, it was an absolute stunner for the travelling Hammers who had almost forgotten how it felt to be winning away.
Saliba, who only returned to the club from his World Cup exertions last Friday, always seems to have one mistake in him in every game.
And while no-one can question the quality of his performances at the heart of the Arsenal defence this season, this was a further reminder that he is still not the finished article.
It was not the first time that Arteta’s youngsters have suffered an early setback and they were convinced they had pulled off another comeback when they were awarded a penalty of their own in first-half stoppage time.
But this time there was no doubting the TV footage which showed that Aaron Cresswell had blocked Odegaard’s piledriver with his head rather than with his raised arms and the original decision was overturned by Oliver.
That was all too much for Arteta, who stormed straight down the tunnel with a face like thunder as he contemplated how to turn things around after the break.
And he didn’t have to wait long for the response when Saka intercepted Odegaard’s 53rd-minute shot and calmly picked his spot as West Ham appealed in vain for offside.
Six minutes later, Declan Rice was robbed of possession by Saka before Odegaard and Granit Xhaka moved the ball on for Martinelli to beat Lukasz Fabianski inside his near post.
And if the former Arsenal keeper felt he might have done better with that one, he had no chance when Nketiah put this game to bed in the 69th minute, rolling Thilo Kehrer before firing into the far corner.
“One Arsene Wenger” chanted the fans as they caught sight of the great man on the big screen.
But Le Professeur is now history. It’s “Super Mik Arteta” who is leading Arsenal towards their bright new future.