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Arsenal’s Failings On The Pitch Clearly Echo Sheer Complacency Off It


I had mixed emotions about my long-awaited return to the Emirates on Sunday. It was my first game in the flesh since a 4-0 win over Newcastle in February 2020 553 days before, where the Mikel Arteta era was in its early stages and looking in great shape. Despite the old matchday buzz and excitement of being in the ground to watch Arsenal play, I did have a number of issues about the matchday experience.

For starters, the game itself was simply depressing. Whilst there were a number of key players missing from a very youthful starting XI, the team was outclassed from start to finish and it was a routine win for the visitors. We were unorganised at the back and toothless in attack, and it was one of the most comfortable wins Chelsea will have all season.

However, the focus of this piece is not reflecting upon how the players and coach performed in the grand return of supporters to the ground, but about how a club which has seen a rapid decline in results has also seen a decline in the way in which they treat their fans.

Looking around the other Premier League grounds, nearly all of them sold out their opening fixture, and some went even further to make the occasion even more special. Manchester United unveiled Raphael Varane to the Old Trafford crowd, and this caused scenes of jubilation amongst the home fans which helped generate an electric atmosphere to lift the team against Leeds. Even Tottenham organised a flag display in the ground, and this boosted the efforts of the crowd to help them beat Man City.

Walking around the Emirates opens your eyes to the lack of care the ground has received in recent years: the displays on the side of the stadium are fading, the badges are peeling and inside the seats are closer to pink than red. A startling observation was that the numbers on most of the seats had fully worn off, making my search to find my seat an awkward one. 18 months without fans was the perfect opportunity to carry out restoration works yet it was simply neglected. The Emirates has seen some fantastic pre-match displays and light shows over the years, such as before European games against the likes of Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid, but there seemed to be nothing from the club to suggest that it was even considered this time.

The availability of tickets on the day was rather telling in itself. Although the ground wasn’t as empty as some rival fans were gleefully claiming it would be, the sight of pockets of empty seats dotted around speaks volumes about the disconnect between fan and club. I am lucky enough to have a season ticket, but the pricing strategy for this game was remarkably bad. Single upper tier tickets going for over £120 each, in the aftermath of a pandemic which has seen incomes fall, for a game in which many anticipated a poor result, is ill thought in both a moral and economic sense. Surely it is in the club’s best interests to fill the stadium up, in terms of revenue and image, than to have unsold tickets in a week where everyone else sold out.

The executive of the club often refer to a long term ‘process.’ Whilst the strategy of building around and signing young players to improve in the long term may be an admirable one, the rest of the club do not seem to be on board. Fan unrest has not been this high in years, and Arsenal seem to be taking their support for granted. My return to the home of The Arsenal should have been a glorious one whatever the result: stepping into a freshly renovated stadium to be greeted by a packed out, excited crowd, to push this young team on to get a result against the European Champions. Instead, I stepped into a stadium that seems to be crumbling before our very eyes, to a crowd who feel a mixture of anger and apathy at the performances we witnessed on TV for the last 18 months, with empty seats and even some Chelsea fans in the home end.

An easy way to quell a lot of fan unrest would simply be to lower ticket prices. Although lower costs should not excuse poor showings on the pitch, it would mean that the empty spaces are filled up and might increase the patience of fans watching a young team and inexperienced manager develop. Arsenal’s serious lack of preparation for the season has seen us throw away 6 points already, and it would now take a monumental effort from those in charge to show their ambition and their will to make the Emirates experience an enjoyable one.

When we moved to the Emirates we were promised world class facilities which would allow us to compete with Europe’s elite. The downfall in performance on the pitch can be attributed to many different factors, but the slow deterioration of Arsenal as a club is clearly visible through the lack of care given to the ground. The disconnect between the owners, board and fans is at an all time high, and unlike 12 months ago they cannot rely on the manager or a star player to try and bridge that gap. Arteta’s approval ratings drop with every loss and captain Aubameyang, who was revered this time last year, is no longer seen as a superstar who can carry the team on his back. Although a young, hungry squad is being built, the lack of faith in the management and owners have meant that a return to a full, vibrant Emirates might still be some time away.

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