The Twelfth Man – The Emirates feel like home to Arsenal fans at last

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.

Be Kind In The Comments

Dan Smith

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  1. The supporters seem more excited when watching Arsenal play under Arteta, as compared to Emery and Wenger in his last years

    Probably because the current team have been making plenty of clear-cut chances and their wingers are very dangerous, unlike several years ago when the team just made highly predictable chances

    The supporters at the Emirates are great and the travelling ones are the best. The way they re-embraced Xhaka is also commendable

      1. Yes, Xhaka’s forward passes through the left wing, work rate, aerial ability, passion and intelligence are essential for the team

  2. Long may it continue, it’s been a library for far too long.

    Also hoping when we are losing at home that the crown continues to make a noise, that’s usually when it goes quiet.

    1. The reason the crowd is so behind the players, is because we see brilliant attacking football – unlike last season.

      Quite simply really, the supporter is paying hard earnt money to be entertained and see a successful side giving 100%.

      There are still areas of concern, but if we can strengthen before the window closes, I see no reason why we can’t take this kind of football to Old Trafford and win.

      I agree, our away support is awesome, but so is The Emirate crowd this season.

      1. 100% Ken, very few fans mind a loss if we are at least showing intent. As you say, a very different look from last season but some fans are claiming we’ve always played like this under MA which is simply not true.

        1. Agreed PJ-SA
          Apart from handful of game last season ,I personally thought it was some of the worst football I’ve witnessed as an Arsenal supporter .
          This season the stabilisers seem to have been taken off ,so far so could .

        2. Bro we’ve mostly played like this under Arteta right from start. It’s not even a debate, it’s been clear to see for those who kept sentiments and dislike for the manager aside.
          What all big teams do by recycling passes and keeping possession is what Arsenal fans chose to call sideways pass, only improvement is we move the ball more faster now. The process is just more faster now when in transition, we don’t look different from last season, and another problem was inconsistency from the players, but now it seems they’ve all gotten used to what Arteta wants.
          The Spurs game at the Emirates was an example, the City game at the Emirates, and some other games I can’t remember. We move the ball more faster, but it’s always been the same style of play.
          It kills me that Mark Goldbridge a Manchester United fan was always defending Arteta saying our game plan and style of play was obvious and he got laughed at by United and Arsenal fans. He stood his ground and always said it was obvious the way we wanted to play, something he couldn’t say for his club. Right now he’s always mocking those who laughed at him for saying he was speaking nonsense.
          Point is, perhaps if you keep aside sentiments and go watch most of games from last season, you’d see it’s basically the same way we play, except we were always slow in moving the ball. The only time it was deadly was when we moved it quickly, now that’s what we do. We still recycle passes to stay in possession (something people call sideways passing, only much faster this time around

          1. Sentiments ?
            The football I watched was dull nothing to do with agendas, sentiments or whatever else you want to come out with .
            I’ve given praise for this season ,obviously fans see games differently ,what I’ve seen the last 2’years for me as been crap ,league positions suggest the same .

            1. Yes Can sentiments.
              We still do what fans loved calling sideways passing now, no?
              Just because it’s faster now and we move it quicker, it’s no longer sideways passing and depressing football? At least that was what it was called.

            2. Absolutely correct Dk – as one example, I remember sitting through the Burnley game and the only time the fans got out of their seats was when we scored and to go home
              Eddie, I’m not sure how you can ompare the last two seasons to the football we are playing today?
              If we had a Patrick Vieria in that midfield, I would suggest that we would not be to far behind the Invincibles in the way we attack, defend and control the game – last season we were inconsistent, slow, boring and, at the latter part of the season, gutless.
              Just my opinion Eddie, but I know that I’m looking forward to the next game with optimisim, not pessimism.

              1. Ken the point is unlike previous seasons, we only move the ball faster now.
                It’s always been the recycling of passes to move the ball forward that we’ve always done. Again, something fans labeled as sideways passes.
                How can anyone who watches us play not see it?
                It’s just faster and in results more effective now

            1. Dan Smith and I can name some a lot of home games and away games where we only moved the ball slowly unlike how fast we do it now.
              This has always been the style of play, keep possession and move the ball in a tactical phase and rotational movement.
              Are you trying to say it’s not what we do anymore?

              1. No your original argument is the football we have been playing this season has always been happening since the day Arteta arrived and the only reason people are not saying it is biased or sentiment

                1. Perhaps you missed countless times from my first argument that I mentioned only difference is we were slow when moving the ball and now we just do it faster but it’s been the same of play?

                  Is it the same style of play or not? Even though now it’s faster and better

                  1. No , you literally wrote ….
                    Bro we’ve mostly played like this under Arteta right from start. It’s not even a debate, it’s been clear to see for those who kept sentiments and dislike for the manager aside.

                    I would argue for his first two seasons not knowing what our identity was

          2. No Eddie we were quite boring to be honest I’d say we were actually mimicking what we are doing now! But it’s your opinion we are enjoying what is on display now and long may it continue.

            1. Lol, Maybe I’m the one who keeps wording it wrongly.
              You mean it’s the same thing and movement but much fast paced now?
              “Mimicking” is a good word.
              That’s my point. We’ve always had the same style of play, THE ONLY DIFFERENCE IS NOW WE MOVE THE BALL FAST WHILE IN POSSESSION AND RECYCLING PASSES.
              That’s the only reason it’s not boring and termed “sideways passing” because we move the ball moves faster now.
              Anyway I don’t want this to drag on, so all focus on the next game.
              Let’s keep pushing

          3. Well If we were moving the ball slower, it is definately not the same way we were playing this season compared to last season. The idea was there, but the action was not. Kudos to Arteta for changing the play somewhat and getting Odegaard to link the play most often. Odegaard is the biggest player in this team and if he goes missing, I believe arsenal will suffer a little. But I am impressed with what the team have been doing so far this season. Long may it continue and get even better as the season progresses.

  3. The fans have been amazing so far, home, away, and ofcourse the online fans who are way more to fill up the Emirates. Mikel and the Club seem to be connecting with us too which is great and may this live on.

    Arsenal since the Wenger era has always been a global force so whether we have kids from North London, kids from the Favela or Abuja as long as there giving there all for the badge the Club will continue growing. This is something the oil clubs can’t match.

    Now all we need is a big trophy in the Emirates to maintain this marriage of convenience.

  4. A marvellously positive and welcome though VERY overdue one from DAN. While agreeing with it almost entirely, what still irks me even after lasts night win, is how some fans are even now pessimistic and pointlessly nit picking.

    One fan,whose name starts with letter A, actually thought, incredibly IMO, that BOTH our wingers were disappointing.

    Any fan who refuses to acknowledge and praise that is extremely curmudgeonly and out of touch with all reality.


  5. I think one thing most people have failed to acknowledge was the fact that unlike senior experienced managers that’ll come in the time Arteta came, and they’d look to recruit players (short term most effectively) that’ll give them the results needed, Arteta went the other way instead.
    Focused on bringing back the culture first, cleared players while making use of what he had, started the connection between fans and the team, restored the belief and culture while picking players that’ll settle into his culture.
    I can’t say how wonderful a job he’s done. If he leaves tomorrow, he’ll be leaving the club in the best shape any incoming manager would want with young talented players.
    The energy at the Emirates is great and long may it continue. Extra praises gotta be handed out still to the fans who travel in away games and still stay very loud on the pitch.
    It’s been a good turnaround at Arsenal since the gaffer came.
    Let’s keep going forward and better.

  6. Great article @ Dan Smith
    The sea change is there for all to see.
    I also felt last year was as dull as it gets just like Dan Kit and Ken1945. But what a difference, signing people with winning mentality makes to the whole team. The belief & fan optimism is there. Glass half full than half empty like it was last year.

  7. Dan I said in one article , what I’d like to know how we react when a goal down, and got my answers against Fulham, and again how we react when a team equalises after us leading and boy the response has been terrific. And that’s what fans what to see, the boys giving their all on that pitch

  8. First of all a brilliant piece of writing Dan. People forget about the recent past, how we improved, how the team is shaping, what MA and co are doing and critisize, talk in frustration and do all this bad stuff to our young team with bright future.

    I completely understand this and i can even say i’ve gotten frustrated by the results in the past specially after we narrowly missed on the CL. But that’s not the point of being a fan. It’s standing with the team even in the hard moment.

    Dan, you remembering all we went through and writing this beautiful article is all i wanted to be the most happy and excited Arsenal fan. I’m happy for the fans’ unity, Mikel’s work, the over all team performance, the management and etc.

    I think the we’ve learnt a crucial moral here. We’ve to be fans.

  9. Missed this earlier but that was a very enjoyable read. Only thing missing was the housing market crash and how that messed up our ability to sell the Highbury flats we chose to develop ourselves short-term and value overall.

    Always felt sorry Wenger without Chelsea’s money we’d of won the title 2004/2005 easily for instance. Cole never leaves and would of likely ended up with a couple of Chelsea players to Cech/Mata etc. which would of been pretty massive going forwards. That and then City’s money led to this idea we’d regressed massively when the league had just become more competitive. Coupled with insane TV rights rises even the most optimistic financial expert wouldn’t have predicted it dented the impact of the Emirates. Fact remains the Emirates has had a significant positive impact on our financial status and in this era FFP that additional income does matter. Sometimes feel Wenger used up all his luck on the unbeaten season.

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