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Arsenal fans fell for that old chestnut – a goal that never was

Arsenal fans at the last match of the season
Arsenal supporters briefly believed that an unlikely title heist was on the cards - PA/Mike Egerton

For a few glorious moments, at around 4.45pm on Sunday afternoon, the dream was alive in north London. Or, to be more accurate, the supporters and players of Arsenal believed the dream was alive. At the speed of sound, the most thrilling of rumours had spread: 2-2 at City.

Within the stands, Arsenal fans screamed towards the skies and held up two fingers on each hand. 2-2 at City. Takehiro Tomiyasu had just scored for Arsenal, equalising for his team after Everton’s fortunate opener, and the Emirates Stadium rumbled with uncontainable excitement. 2-2 at City.

Martin Odegaard, the Arsenal captain, had spent much of the first half attempting to whip up the home crowd. He had been whirring his arms and circling his hands, calling for more energy and more noise from the fans. Now, all of a sudden, the dream was alive and he was pleading for calm. He had no hope of getting it, of course. After all, it was 2-2 at City.

Except, it soon became clear, it wasn’t 2-2 at City. Somehow the news had spread, and on days like this nothing could ever travel faster than good news. But it was not news – not accurate news anyway – and it was not real. The dream, it eventually became clear, was not quite as alive as the Emirates had believed.

It was a wild moment on a wild afternoon of Premier League football. For those in north London, it triggered memories of similar scenes at White Hart Lane more than a decade ago, when Tottenham Hotspur supporters celebrated a “goal” elsewhere that simply had not been scored. In the battle for Champions League qualification, Sir Alan Sugar had wrongly tweeted that Newcastle had struck against Arsenal.

This time, in the red corner of the capital, there was no obvious explanation for the fake news. The most likely cause is that it was an issue of timing, with Tomiyasu’s goal arriving at almost exactly the same moment that Mohammed Kudus scored for West Ham United to make it 2-1 against Manchester City.

Kudus struck in the 42nd of that match, while Tomiyasu scored in the 43rd minute for Arsenal. Some supporters might have been aware of West Ham’s goal before Tomiyasu struck, while others might have caught up later. Either way, the flow of emotions went as follows: delight, confusion, despair.

It was that sort of afternoon for Arsenal and their supporters, who effectively went from 100 to zero, back to 100 and then down again within the space of one half of football. These are the realities of title races on the final day, and for most of the occasion the overriding feeling within the stadium was nervous tension.

Before kick-off, the atmosphere had been entirely different. The streets around the Emirates throbbed with anticipation and excitement, with one long-serving fan telling Telegraph Sport that he had never experienced an atmosphere like it before a match. Arsenal had arranged for red fireworks to explode as the players emerged from the tunnel, and it felt appropriate.

All of this had the effect of creating a bubble of noise and passion. And then, 212 miles away at a different stadium, Phil Foden burst that bubble after barely two minutes of action. That is the brutal power of City, the best in the world at removing jeopardy from occasions which should be full of it.

The deflationary effect of Foden’s early strike was remarkable, and it was more effective at ripping the hope from Arsenal than any goal they have conceded this season. There was simply nothing that the home supporters could do, and they knew it. It had an impact on the players, too, with Arsenal producing a poor performance in that first half.

One of the great beauties of sport, of course, is that there is always next year. By the end here, and certainly after Kai Havertz had scored a late winner, the home crowd appeared to have made peace with that. Disappointment turned to pride, and the atmosphere in stoppage time was as loud as it had been at the start. Arsenal had gone full cycle, even if the trophy was never as close as they briefly believed.

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