Mon, 18 Jan 2021

For the first time in 270 days, fans were back inside a Premier League ground as Arsenal welcomed 2 000 supporters into the Emirates for Thursday's routine 4-1 Europa League win over Rapid Vienna.

The sparse crowd in a 60 000 capacity stadium were well distanced between two stands and in high spirits despite the Gunners' poor form of late in the English top-flight.

"I'm delighted to have fans back they make a huge difference," said Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta.

"We had 2 000 but they were loud and they were supportive to the team so thanks to them for coming and making the effort."

Outside the ground before kick-off fans held up a banner reading: in tribute to those working on the front line battling coronavirus in the health service.

Arsenal's last home match with a crowd was back in March prior to a three-month stoppage of the sport due to the pandemic.

Since returning in June, English top-flight football has been played behind closed doors with Arsenal fans missing out on seeing their side win the FA Cup and Community Shield at Wembley.

"It's been a long nine months since the last game," said Javed Singh. "I'm excited, it's a bit of a dead rubber game but good to be back in the stadium. Just great to see a game in person."

Despite Arsenal having already booked their place in the Europa League knockout stages, demand from fans to be one of the lucky few back through the gates crashed the club website on Saturday morning.

"It's one of those games you will look back on that we were the first ones in the stadium," said Dan Anderson, who attended the game with his brother as normal.

"It's just getting back to normal. You work hard all week and to have that reward to be able to go to a game at the weekend or at night is what you want."

However, it was not a return to normality for everyone. Pubs that would typically be crammed with fans on matchday around the stadium remained shut with London still under tier two restrictions meaning alcohol cannot be served without food.

Restrictions remain even tighter in other parts of England in Tier three such as Manchester and Birmingham where fans remain shut out.

"Football is all about you, the fans - we have missed you and we are so happy to be welcoming you back," said Arsenal skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in a video played before kick-off.

Gunnersauras saved from extinction

Club mascot Gunnersaurus was also back after the controversy that saw the club employee, Jerry Quy, who played the role since 1993, let go amid cost-cutting measures before Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil stepped in to cover his salary.

Playing an entire season without crowds would cost Premier League clubs an estimated Pound 700 million ($941 million) and the need to make the most of the fans' return was evident with Arsenal's "Armoury" club shop reopened.

The atmosphere inspired a much-changed side on the field as Arteta looked ahead of Sunday's North London derby against Premier League leaders Tottenham.

Spurs were the target of the first chants once the action got underway, showing some things never change no matter the circumstances.

There was soon something to cheer as Alexandre Lacazette smashed in a stunning long-range strike top open the scoring on 10 minutes and ran to celebrate in front of the fans.

"It's just great to have that sound back and have our 12th man back," said Arsenal midfielder Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

Pablo Mari quickly headed home a second on his first appearance since March.

Eddie Nketiah added a third before half-time before Kohya Kitagawa's consolation for the Austrians drew pantomime boos from the crowd.

Substitute Emile Smith Rowe rounded off the scoring on a night that will be best remembered for what happened off the field.

Collated Europa League results on Thursday:

Group A

CFR Cluj (ROM) 0 CSKA Sofia (BUL) 0

Roma (ITA) 3 (Mayoral 44, Calafiori 59, Dzeko 81) Young Boys (SUI) 1 (Nsame 34)

Group B

Molde (NOR) 3 (Wolff Eikrem 30 Omoijuanfo 41, Ellingsen 67) Dundalk (IRL) 1 (Flores 90+4)

Arsenal (ENG) 4 (Lacazette 10, Pablo Mari 18, Nketiah 44, Smith Rowe 66) Rapid Vienna (AUT) 1 (Kitagawa 47)

Group C

Nice (FRA) 2 (Kamara 26, Ndoye 47) Bayer Leverkusen (GER) 3 (Diaby 22, Dragovic 32, Baumgartlinger 51)

Slavia Prague (CZE) 3 (Sima 31, Stanciu 36, Twito 85-og) v Hapoel Beer-Sheva (ISR) 0

Group D

Rangers (SCO) 3 (Goldson 39, Tavernier 45+1-pen, Arfield 63) v Standard Liege (BEL) 2 (Lestienne 6, Cop 41)

Benfica (POR) 4 (Vertonghen 36, Nunez 57, Pizzi 58, Weigl 89) v Lech Poznan (POL) 0

Group E

Granada (ESP) 0 PSV Eindhoven (NED) 1 (Malen 38)

Omonia Nicosia (CYP) 2 (Kakoulli 9, Jordi Gomez 84-pen) v PAOK (GRE) 1 (Trolis 39)

Group F

AZ Alkmaar (NED) 1 (Martins Indi 54) v Napoli (ITA) 1 (Mertens 6)

Real Sociedad (ESP) 2 (Bautista 69, Monreal 79) v Rijeka (CRO) 2 (Velkoski 38, Loncar 73)

Group G

AEK Athens (GRE) 2 (Oliveira 31, Vasilantonopoulos 89) Braga (POR) 4 (Tormena 8, Esgaio 10, Horta 45, Galeno 83)

Zorya Luhansk (UKR) 1 (Sayyadmanesh 84) Leicester City (ENG) 0

Group H

Lille (FRA) 2 (Yilmaz 80,84) Slavia Prague (CZE) 1 (Krejci 71)

AC Milan (ITA) 4 (Calhanoglu 24, Castillejo 26, Hauge 50, Diaz 82) Celtic (SCO) 2 (Rogic 7, Edouard 14)

Group I

Qarabag (AZE) 1 (Romero 37) Maccabi Tel-Aviv (ISR) 1 (Cohen 22-pen)

- Match being played in Istanbul, Turkey

Sivasspor (TUR) 0 Villarreal (ESP) 1 (Chukwueze 75)

Group J

LASK Linz (AUT) 3 (Michorl 42, Eggstein 84, Karamoko 90+3) Tottenham Hotspur (ENG) 3 (Bale 45+2-pen, Son 56, Alli 87-pen)

Antwerp (BEL) 3 (Hongla 19, De Laet 72, Benson 87) Ludogorets (BUL) 1 (Despodov 53)

Group K

CSKA Moscow (RUS) 0 Wolfsberg (AUT) 1 (Vizinger 22)

Feyenoord (NED) 0 Dinamo Zagreb (CRO) 2 (Petkovic 45+5-pen, Maher 53)

Group L

Gent (BEL) 1 (Yaremchuk 60) Slovan Liberec (CZE) 2 (Mara 32, Kacharaba 55)

Red Star Belgrade (SRB) 0 Hoffenheim (GER) 0

Source: News24

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