Mikel Arteta learnt first-hand that returning supporters can make a “huge difference” as Arsenal won in front of fans on Thursday – with the Gunners boss then warning clubs who can welcome back spectators will have an advantage over their rivals.
Two-thousand supporters were in attendance at the Emirates Stadium for the first time in nine months and witnessed the hosts storm to a 4-1 Europa League win over Rapid Vienna.
Already assured of qualification to the knockout stages, this comfortable evening was inspired by a fine Alexandre Lacazette opener just 10 minutes in.
But the result played second fiddle to the return of fans to top-flight football with fans watching while socially distanced – the first supporters to watch a game here since March.
Lacazette opened the scoring with a long-range strike before Pablo Mari, returning to the team for the first time since suffering an ankle injury in June, headed in a second, with academy graduates Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith Rowe adding the gloss either side of Kohya Kitagawa’s consolation.
Arsenal have lost their last three Premier League home games but never looked in danger here, with Arteta reserving special praise for those in the stands.
“It was very special,” he said.
“I’m delighted to have them back, they made a huge contribution. We had 2,000 but it looked like many more.
“They were very supportive and encouraging to the team, it makes a huge difference. Thanks so much to them for coming and supporting the team.
“I think the boys showed a great, energy, character and aggression today right from the beginning – everyone individually played a really good game.”
The issue now for Arsenal is their next league game is a north London derby away to table-topping Tottenham – who are one of 10 Premier League clubs in tier two, where two-thousand fans will be allowed to watch games.
Arteta admits clubs who can have fans present will have an edge as he takes his side across the divide knowing defeat will leave them 11 points behind Spurs.
Asked if it will give teams an advantage, the Spaniard replied: “Probably because this sport without fans is completely different.
“Everything is flatter, the players lose a little bit of purpose and emotion. It is something that you want to share.
“At the end of the day, we are here to entertain, we are here to make the fans enjoy.
“They have a huge passion for our football club and when they are able to transmit that, it gets directly into the players. For me, to have them here home or away, it is always different because of them.”