By the time Cesc Fabregas was replaced in the final minute, the mask had gone and the jeers had melted into applause.
The appreciative majority overwhelmed the vocal minority to offer a tribute to the Phantom of the Emirates, one of the finest creative midfielders to have worn an Arsenal shirt in the modern era.
It’s true they had booed his every touch and perhaps the loudest cheer of the game followed his yellow card for a dive but for Arsenal it is time to stop being haunted by those they have lost or failed to sign and support those they have.
There have been genuine signs of promise in N5 and reasons for optimism in 2015, even if Arsene Wenger was unable to add what would have been a significant other by ending his winless run against Jose Mourinho.
It is 13 games and counting, and while the Arsenal boss insists it matters not a jot, it is much to Mourinho’s amusement.
‘It’s about our club and our team, not about me,’ said Wenger. ‘We wanted to win the game for the club. What is important is what happens on the football pitch.
‘We want to finish the season well. Every game is difficult but we need to keep the focus until the end of the season. We want to secure the top four, then the top three and the top two, before the FA Cup final.’
To finish as runners-up, for the first time in a decade, and successfully defend the FA Cup, can be framed as progress.
More significant is the development of Hector Bellerin, Francis Coquelin and Nacho Monreal. Together with a philosophical tweak, it has made Arsenal a more solid defensive unit, capable of taking points from Manchester City and Chelsea and winning at Manchester United in the FA Cup.
Coquelin and Monreal were both ready to make smart fouls at the expense of yellow cards to stop the visitors as they sought to counter quickly. This is not a typical Arsenal trait.
Bellerin has been outstanding and few have contained Eden Hazard this season as effectively as the teenager did yesterday, but Arsenal need more defensive protection and plan to prioritise a defensive midfielder and a new goalkeeper in the summer.
‘We have closed the gap since the start of the season,’ said Wenger. ‘But what happened is that they had the experience at the back and could close the game down.
‘The build-up was quick and sharp but the final ball wasn’t there.’
With five to play, Arsenal trail the champions-elect by 10 points and must concentrate on catching Chelsea in the knowledge their rivals from the capital’s west will strengthen again in the summer.
Amid the progress, there remain reasons for concern. Despite the flair overload of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla, they could not break down a Mourinho team determined to protect their clean sheet.
Ozil had glimpses of goal, but Branislav Ivanovic did to Sanchez what Bellerin did to Hazard. Chelsea finished the game with a midfield trio of Nemanja Matic, Kurt Zouma and Ramires, which together with their usually resolute back four amounted to a seven-man defensive shield.
In the Sky Sports studio, Arsenal legend Thierry Henry questioned the quality of 18-goal striker Olivier Giroud.
‘Wenger has to strengthen,’ said Henry. ‘In order to win the league you need great players. I don’t think you can win the league with Giroud.
‘Chelsea struggled last year but they went out to buy (Thibaut) Courtois, Cesc, Matic and (Diego) Costa. You see today the difference between a team that did and a team that didn’t strengthen. Arsenal still need four top players.’
Those four would be straight down the spine of the team. Imagine Arsenal if you threaded Courtois, John Terry, Matic and Costa through the centre of their fast and fluent side.
Arsenal do not long for a Fabregas. They have players who can offer his vision and passing range. Perhaps the supporters who applauded him from the pitch have come to accept this.
But Chelsea do have individuals who would offer extra physical presence and match-winning know-how which would provide a platform for those like Ozil, Sanchez and Cazorla to deliver.
Henry must realise this is not the Wenger way but time for nurturing is running out. The Arsenal manager has two more years on what could be his final contract.
If he is to close the gap, catch Chelsea next season and end this hoodoo against Mourinho, then it must be done in the summer transfer market. – Daily Mail