There is no fantasy farewell for Roy Hodgson from the home of his boyhood club, as Arsenal tee up a last-day shootout for Europe with victory over Crystal Palace in the Premier League at Selhurst Park.
A Nicolas Pepe double has opened up a pathway to continental football that seemed all but gone at the turn of the near year – and the Gunners sit on the cusp of a remarkable turnaround.
Nicolas Pepe expertly finishing past Vicente Guaita in the 36th minute after Kieran Tierney and Bukayo Saka made a mockery of Palace’s right-side.
Saka also had a penalty appeal waved away in the 31st minute after racing clear.
But Palace – much like their manager – were tenacious. They hung in there, like they’ve always done under Hodgson.
If Bernd Leno hadn’t produced an excellent save to deny Jeffrey Schlupp’s 32nd minute effort, or if Gary Cahill and Christian Benteke had shown greater accuracy then Palace could have been level at half-time.
So when Hodgson’s side pulled themselves level through Christian Benteke’s header in the 62nd minute it really came as no surprise.
To the very last, this Palace team are playing for their manager.
But there was more riding on this for Arsenal, who will head into the final day of the season with a chance of qualifying for Europe – and perhaps more importantly for their supporters – a chance to overtake Tottenham as substitute Gabriel Martinelli grabbed a last gasp winner before Pepe added insult to injury for Palace with an brilliant solo effort.
Roy Hodgson is tearing up as he walks down the sidelines and applauds the fans. It is a standing ovation for the veteran manager once again, if not the finish on this ground that he would have wanted.
He looks set to head down the tunnel, before he’s called back – the crowd won’t let him go quietly without signing his name one more time.
The former Eagles academy player, born and raised a stone’s throw from the stadium, who went on to manage his boyhood club. Fairytale stuff.
He has one last hurrah, of course; against, ironically, Liverpool – his former club – on Sunday.
Jurgen Klopp has promised Hodgson a proper send off. Hodgson probably doesn’t want the fuss.
But Mikel Arteta has a grin on his face as he exits stage left.
Part of his side’s prospects will depend on how West Ham – trailing against West Brom – go tonight, but either way, they will be a point behind Tottenham, who must play Leicester, and Everton, who must play Manchester City, heading into Sunday.
But it is both sides who have a part to play in the race now.
Arsenal must still hope for destiny to go their way – wins for Spurs, Everton and West Ham sink them either way – but they face Brighton in a must-win clash. As for Palace? Why, Roy Hodgson returns to Liverpool, home of an ill-fated spell, with the chance to deny them Champions League football.