09 April 2016

West Ham were the last to win at Highbury? We'll close the Boleyn Ground!

Set aside all of the calculations and permutations about how many points this and that squad need to secure a top-four finish. Forget for now who'll win the Prem and who'll settle for sloppy seconds in this silliest of seasons. We at Arsenal have a score to settle, quite apart from goal difference, games in hand, or table-position. I'll lay my cards out on the table: West Ham were the last away team to win at Highbury. As such, they've earned a special spot in my heart—the one I'd live to carve out with a spoon.

Highbury is and always will be hallowed ground. For West Ham to traipse in and escape with all three points way back in February 2006 amounts to sacrilege, nothing less. Why, they finished ninth that season, below such also-rans as Bolton, Blackburn, and Newcastle. Hell, they finished below Chelsea and Liverpool. They might even finish below Manchester United if they're not careful. I kid you not.

So we have a chance now to make amends if not exact revenge. West Ham are on the edge of finishing higher than they've ever finished in the Prem—and they still have an FA Cup to pursue. Amidst all of this comes the bittersweet news that they'll leave the Boleyn Ground, that hallowed pitch on which they've plied their trade since 1904, in order to move to Olympic Stadium for 2016 and beyond. Hmph. They'll move into a stadium built for other purposes on someone else's tuppence, will they? Quaint. Cheeky. Yes, they'll have to shell out a few quid on the legal wranglings and conversion but nothing on the order of actually building a new stadium from scratch.

Highbury was a special place. For as much as the Emirates represents the future of the Arsenal, Highbury will always embody the past, and the past will always embrace Highbury. It's a stadium that has passed on from legend to become myth. Think of the names and the exploits that this pitch bore witness to. Thirteen league championships (ten First Division and three Premier League). Ten FA Cups. Five doubles. The Invincibles. Countless heart-stopping, breath-taking memories. If there was a temple to Arsenal, a shrine to football as it should be played, Highbury might be that place.

And yet, West Ham had the poor taste to come in during that final season, that swan-song, and win. Well, we fast-forward just over a decade, and the boot's on the other foot at least in one regard. The Boleyn Ground is special, and there's no taking away from that, and West Ham is enjoying its finest season in living memory. Still, there's some small part of me—a part I want to hold close to my heart—that wants to exact some small measure of revenge. West Ham is leaving the Boleyn Ground? Good on them. Far be it from us at Arsenal to roll out the red carpet. Long may they enjoy their pre-furnished flat.

As for us, we can kill two birds or more with one stone. Should we win on Saturday, we'll exact that decade-old revenge. What's more, we'll eliminate the Irons from top-four contention and motivate Man U to defeat Tottenham on Sunday.

There's more to football than silverware. There's a primal element, one that draws its energy from deeper within. Much as I'd enjoy seeing West Ham finish in the top four, I'd enjoy seeing Arsenal finish atop the Prem. Failing that, I'd settle for seeing Arsenal set things right by an old foe. For those with a shorter lens on things, do remember that West Ham beat us to start the current Prem campaign. At the Emirates.

There's a certain book-ending quality to this, one that we'd be remiss if we failed to address. In other words, we owe it to West Ham if not to history to win on Saturday.