If you had told me 2 years ago that the Emirates would consistently have such a great atmosphere it would intimidate opponents, I would not have believed you.
Our stadium has the same issues that a lot of modern venues have. It’s almost too nice, seats too comfy, a great view no matter where your ticket is, no need to stand up.
To many it will never be Highbury. Highbury was our first love, the Emirates the new partner, perhaps better looking, yet your ex took your soul.
We all understand why we had to make the move. Highbury’s attendance was 38,000, a small number considering the size of our fanbase.
Supporters being so close to the pitch that you could touch the players isn’t a justifiable reason to turn down the opportunity to play in front of 60,000 plus every other week (even then there is a waiting list for season tickets). It would have been financially irresponsible if our then board didn’t approve of the switch to around the corner.
It’s hard to think that the Emirates has actually hosted more Premiership fixtures than Highbury. Many Gooners associate the change of homes as the divide between our fortunes.
Mr. Wenger said, ‘Highbury my soul, Emirates my suffering’. It’s hard not to argue.
The Gunners were naive in their business model, believing once they paid off debt to build the arena, that they would have an economic advantage over their peers. Hence the famous promise that by now we would be competing with the likes of Bayern Munich. We can’t even qualify for the Champions League, forget about lifting it!
To meet bank repayments, we often had to sell our best talent every year while ‘only finishing 4th’.
This era coincided with Chelsea and Man City being taken over by Billionaires, with us foolishly believing UEFA were serious about Financial Fair Play.
The Emirates needs a Championship win, an iconic moment that will live forever. At the time, I truly thought Danny Welbeck’s headers against Leicester would become a moment that would live forever.
Has the building had famous European Nights? Maybe Barcelona but not many in its 16 years existence.
The irony being that the noisiest I ever heard the Emirates was it’s only year without entertaining any European Football.
It would seem odd that fans would be louder for their worst finish in 25 years then they were when we were higher in the table.
The turning point was Norwich in the last campaign.
The Gunners had lost their first 3 fixtures of the season without scoring a goal.
While very few fans believed we were in a relegation fight, they recognised the team needed help and encouragement. That a young squad was so devoid of confidence that it would be counterproductive to moan and groan.
At least for that 90 minute, the team was fully backed.
It was the same for the North London Derby, where for the first time in years maybe we were not the favourites. Again, our fans decided to be the 12th man.
It contradicted the reputation that the Emirates had developed. Many visitors would mock away days at the location as a ‘library’. Not a reflection on our fans but more a reflection of what happens when a club moves from an old-fashioned building into a swanky state of the art facility.
If you have never been at the Emirates on a matchday it’s hard to explain. You could often feel the nerves around the place if it were still goalless after an hour. You could imagine opposing coaches telling their players that if you stay in the match, it wouldn’t take a lot for the mood to turn toxic.
Often young players didn’t have the mentality to play in that environment.
To be fair to a Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie, they were a generation who were victims of the fear of failure in every home encounter. This version of Arsenal plays with less expectation.
The All or Nothing Documentary highlighted we have a manager who isn’t afraid to try original ideas, whether that’s having YNWA played out of speakers at training to create Anfield, or bringing a lightbulb in a team talk.
I believe his love for the badge though is genuine, his passion real, his attention to detail almost obsessive.
I believe he does indeed have his own values and principles. While he and his employers remain selective in who needs to meet them, one of our manager’s targets was to fix the relationship between players and fans.
By buying British players, combined with academy graduates such as Smith Rowe, Eddie Nketiah and Saka, you had individuals who fans could relate to.
Have you ever wondered why English players tend to be the face of any merchandise we try to sell?
Because they have either grown up a gooner o,r in the very least since a child understood that Arsenal are one of the biggest institutions in the UK.
They are less likely to see North London as a steppingstone to elsewhere like we have become so used to.
Amazon’s series (while I disagreed with it in principle) highlighted the personalities and characters we have in the changing room, essentially a genuine nice group of young men.
Then in last season’s run-in, Arteta introduced Louis Denford’ North London Forever.
It’s finally recreated the anthem that the Emirates has always tried to foster, failing miserably with Elvis’s Wonder of You.
The anthem has caught on so far.
Like any house though, it’s just bricks and mortar. What makes a home is the people.
Anyone who’s been lucky enough in the last year to make the trip deserves huge credit.
In a period where it would be easy to not show up, to stay quiet, easier to show your frustrations. You instead stood by the players, gave them self-belief, injected some energy into them, showed them what it means to wear the red and white shirt.
We can debate what counts as progress.
We can argue over what is considered a success.
One of the few things we can improve on though is the Emirates finally feels like home.
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