Arsenal are set to make their long-awaited return to a full-capacity Emirates Stadium this Sunday when they take on Chelsea, and Nicolas Pepe has described the differences between empty stadiums.
It has been a long 17 months since the last time we could enjoy a full arena, when we took on West Ham in our final Premier League match before the pandemic halted the 19-20 campaign, but the return to having full stadiums will be a momentous occasion.
The team could certainly do with an extra push also, with our disappointing opening league match of the season against Brentford last Friday not having gone to plan, but with the crowd behind us on Sunday we should be able to put on a spectacle.
Pepe certainly insists that having the fans back will be like having a ’12th man’ on the pitch, and I urge my fellow supporters to get behind the team despite our struggles.
“Frankly, the difference with an empty stadium is that the match feels a bit dead. You can hear each other on the pitch but it’s the fans that really bring that 12th man. That’s what everyone misses,” he told Arsenal Media as published on the club’s website.
“To be honest I played in a lot of empty stadiums before I turned pro, so it didn’t surprise me that much – but there isn’t anything that’s better about playing in an empty stadium than a full one. For me an empty stadium doesn’t have any positives.
“I tried to play the same in an empty stadium as I do when there are fans, but for me when you hear the crowd sing – especially if they call your name – it’s really emotional.
“It shows you the fans really care about you and it makes you really feel part of the club. It pushes you and when you hear them singing your name, it gives you an extra push. It really makes you want to score a goal and return the favour.”
I’m sure those present at the Emirates will feel how important an occasion it will be and give the players the support they deserve, and it could well help make the difference to the result.