December 3 – Arsenal vs Rapid Vienna on a cold Thursday evening in the Europa League’s group stage with nothing at stake may not be the most glamorous occasion, but this dead rubber will take on significance for the club’s faithful and the wider English sporting community as Arsenal will host 2,000 fans at the match, the first Premier League club to welcome back fans since the coronavirus shutdown.
The Gunners learned that the Emirates Stadium is in tier two of the government’s new regionalised approach to tackling the coronavirus pandemic and that will allow the club to host fans for the encounter with the Austrians.
“It’s been almost nine long months since we had fans in attendance at Emirates Stadium and our matches have simply not been the same without you,” said a club statement. “While we appreciate that reduced capacity matches will be far from being ‘back to normal’, we can’t wait to welcome our fans back home for what will be a historic moment for the club.”
In recent weeks, Arsenal’s form has slumped dramatically, with coach Mikel Arteta under pressure to steer the club to better performances and a better position in the league table, but on Thursday the Spaniard expects those few privileged fans who will attend the match to fully back his team.
“I expect them to be very supportive of the team because in the end it’s the only way to get out of this situation,” said Arteta.
“When you see the top top teams, the team that win trophies, how they act and how the supporters act towards the team, name one where they go against the team. I haven’t seen it, so the only way to do it is with them and we need them.”
Arsenal’s fan gate opening comes a day after a select number of clubs in England’s lower divisions were the first to play in front of their fans after 266 days of empty stadiums and sterile atmospheres.
That changed when Carlisle hosted Salford in League Two at 7pm. The hosts won 2-1 to move into the play-off spots, but the return of fans dominated the evening, with 2,000 supporters at Brunton Park.
“When you have the fans back you want it to go well and the boys have put in the work to make sure that happened,” said Carlisle coach Chris Beech. “It was just fantastic to hear them cheer for every tackle and you could see that it gave the lads an extra yard when they needed it. The fact that we’ve been able to share big moments with them is what this game is all about. The roar when the goals went in, you’d think there were 20,000 people here.”
In London, 2,000 fans populated Charlton’s Valley, which holds a capacity of 27,111. The temperature of fans was checked before they were allowed to pass the turnstiles. Supporters had been given staggered arrival times to ensure minimal mixing inside the ground. The visitors however spoiled Charlton’s night, running out 1-0 winners of a Scott Fraser goal.
Elsewhere, Luton, Wycombe, Shrewsbury and Cambridge all welcomed back fans for their matches, with a total of about 10,000 fans allowed to attend. In the Championship, Luton Town defeated Norwich 3-1 in front of 1,000 fans who won their golden tickets via ballot. At Adams Park, 1,000 socially distanced fans watched Wycombe go down 1-0 against Stoke City. In League One, Shrewsbury Town and Accrington drew 2-2 with 2,000 fans in attendance at Waters Meadow. In League Two, Cambridge United hosted 1,917 fans before losing 1-0 to Mansfield Town.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1610874302labto1610874302ofdlr1610874302owedi1610874302sni@o1610874302fni1610874302