By Richard Clarke at Emirates Stadium
It was the end of an era and the start of another.
Arsenal Football Club played their first game at their new home on Saturday but, alas, it was a farewell testimonial for Dennis Bergkamp
After 11 years, 423 games, 120 goals and millions of wonderful memories, it was time for this exceptionally talented footballer to hang up his boots. Only something massive and memorable would be good enough to rightly reflect his impact on Arsenal Football Club and fortunately this occasion fitted the bill perfectly. The ground, the atmosphere and the legendary level of the players involved were just right.
Emirates Stadium was limited to 54,000, around 6,000 below capacity, but the demand for tickets had been incredible. Specially-made T-shirts were left on the seats as they had been for the final game at Highbury so the ground was a sea of red, white and orange when the stadium was formally opened with a small ceremony 45 minutes before kick-off.
At the start of the game, the current squads of Ajax and Arsenal came out and formed a guard of honour for Bergkamp, along with his family, to walk out and wave their hello's. The goodbyes would be for later.
Dennis' father Wim ceremonially kicked off the match and the first few flicks were exchanged by three generations of Bergkamps with 10-year-old Mitchell playing a role.
This would be a proper game of two halves. The first 45 minutes was current Arsenal v current Ajax. The second 45 minutes would be Arsenal Legends v Ajax Legends. In truth no one would care about the result as long as Bergkamp got a goal. The current Arsenal was shorn of the vast majority of its World Cup players. Alex Hleb, Mathieu Flamini and Pascal Cygan provided the bulk of the experience. The visitors, backed by a few thousand fans in the south-east corner of the ground, captured the early initiative.
In the ninth minute Klaas Jan Huntelaar unleashed a shot that Manuel Almunia fisted wide from the corner, Hedwiges Maduro steered a header around the post.
On the quarter-hour Arsenal got their first chance. Armand Traore had already produced a couple of thumping challenges. The left back impressed further when he got to the by-line and cut the ball back for Jeremie Aliadiere to swivel on the six-yard box and fire off a shot that Maarten Stekelenburg held high above his head.
A few minutes later Hleb's pull-back allowed Bergkamp to go for one of his famous chips. For once it drifted just over the bar.
The game did not really match the occasion after that with neither side creating much in front of goal. Eight minutes before the break, Edgar Manucharyan found some space on the left and cross the near post where the leaping Hunterlaar volley past Mart Poom. A minute later the Estonian keeper did just enough to stop the unmarked Manucharyan adding a second.
At the break ex-Arsenal keeper Bob Wilson announced the Legends team for the second half. Ajax included Frank Rijkaard, Jan Wouters, Wim Jonk, the De Boer brothers, Edgar Davids and Edwin van der Sar in their side. Johan Cryuff was their manager. Arsenal included Thierry Henry, David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Patrick Vieira, Ian Wright, Steve Bould, Marc Overmars, Edu, Ray Parlour, Kanu and Emmanuel Petit. The stars truly had come out to honour Bergkamp.
Eight minutes in the second half, Arsenal equalised. Bergkamp fed Dixon on the right, who floated a cross to the near post as he had throughout the '90s at Highbury. Henry latched on to it, held off his marker and side-footed a shot past Van der Sar from close range.
Arsenal now had the upperhand. Gilles Grimandi sprayed a perfect long ball to Overmars and the little winger cut inside to thump a drive into Van der Sar's chest.
Just past the hour, Davids burst through and flicked the ball past Seaman. All he had to do was tap the ball into the net but Grimandi raced up and brought him down. Given that the Tottenham midfielder had been getting so playful stick from the crowd ever since he came on, this was a very popular move. However justice was not served when Ronald de Boer hoofed the penalty over the bar.
With 10 minutes left, the crowd was sprung two surprises. Ajax brought on two players from whom the word 'legend' is not good enough - Johan Cryuff and Marco van Basten.
The latter showed his class almost immediately, flicking the ball over the head of Bould at the near post and forcing a fine one-handed save out of Alex Manninger.
Ian Wright hit the sidenetting then, in the final minute, Kanu darted inside and saw his shot deflect off Jaap Stam and beat keeper Stanley Menzo at the near post for the winning goal.
All we needed now was a Bergkamp goal. It almost came with the last kick of the match but Menzo saved with his legs.
After the final whistle, Bergkamp received a special presentation from the chairman of Arsenal and the board of Ajax. He said a few words to the crowd, did a lap of honour and was lifted on to the shoulders of the Legends.
With that, and a fanfare of fireworks, Bergkamp's career ended.
Some players elicit admiration, some provide inspiration, a precious few can do both. But this man was one of them. His cast-iron technique was forged on the youth team training ground at Ajax and his steely character developed at Inter but his best years will always belong to Arsenal.
And we were so, so lucky to have him.
Arsenal goalscorers: Henry 55, Kanu 80
Ajax goalscorers: Huntelaar 37
First-half Arsenal: Manuel Almunia, Justin Hoyte, Pascal Cygan, Matthew Connolly, Armand Traore; Alex Hleb, Alex Song, Mathieu Flamini, Ryan Smith; Dennis Bergkamp, Jeremie Aliadiere Subs: Mart Poom, Sebastian Larsson, Nicklas Bendtner, Fabrice Muamba, Joe O'Cearuill, Mark Randall, Vincent Van den Berg, Arturo Lupoli, Anthony Stokes.
Second-half Arsenal squad: David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Steve Bould, Gilles Grimandi, Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit, Edu, Ray Parlour; Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Ian Wright, Oleg Luzhny, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Alex Manninger, Patrick Vieira, Glenn Helder, Kanu.
First-half Ajax: Maarten Stekelenburg, Zdenek Grygera, John Heitinga, Jaap Stam, Thomas Vermaelen, Hedwiges Maduro, Kenneth Perez, Wesley Sneijder, Jan Vertonghen, Tom de Mul, Klaas Jan Huntelaar Subs: Olaf Lindenbergh, Urby Emanuelson, George Ogararu, Ryan Babel, Edgar Manucharyan, Robbert Schilder, Markus Rosenberg.
Second-half Ajax squad: Edwin Van der Sar, Stanley Menzo, Danny Blind, Wim Jonk, Frank de Boer, Marciano Vink, Aron Winter, Ronald de Boer, Edgar Davids, Jan Wouters, Stefan Pettersson, Bryan Roy, Johan Cruyff, Frank Rijkaard, Marco Van Basten.
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