‘This means nothing to me. Oh, Vienna’ – so the song goes. But this really did mean something to the faithful 2,000 inside the Emirates Stadium last night. Yes, it was only the Europa League, and yes, Arsenal were already through to the last 32, and this win only meant that they topped their group. But this night was special. They were seeing their team for the first time in way too long.
The last time the fans were in the Emirates it was March 7, when 60,335 turned up to watch them beat West Ham 1-0 in the Premier League. How much has the world gone through since those fateful days.
There they were, in their socially distanced ranks, in the West Stand and the North Bank. They roared as the teams came out, and they sang – all the old songs – and of course, the old anti-Spurs songs. How weird that sounded after nine months of silence. The roar as the teams ran out was spine-tingling – and they yelled again at kick off. It seemed at times as though there were more than 2,000 there. The tickets had sold out in 20 minutes for the first Premier League club to see the fans back. This mattered.
Even Gunnersaurus, briefly let go by the club, was there. The man on the tannoy played “The Boys Are Back in Town,” the old Thin Lizzy hit.
Chances came and went as Lacazette hit the post – and on the stroke of halftime Nelson set up Eddie Nketiah, whose first shot was parried by Strebinger, but he nodded in the rebound.
Out of the blue, Rapid pulled a goal back after Sead Kolasinac twice cleared off the line, Kohya Kitigawa shooting home.
But substitute Emile Smith Rowe tapped in a simple fourth to restore order.
They cheered the substitutes warming up, they cheered Gunnersaurus. And at the end the faithful 2,0000 trooped off down the Holloway Road, happy. It is a start.
Arsenal: (4-2-3-1): Runarsson7; Cedric 7, Mustafi 7 (Chambers 69 6), Mari 7, Kolasinac 7; Elneny 7 (Ceballos 62 6), Maitland Niles 7; Nelson 7 (Willian 62 6), Lacazette 8 (Smith Rowe 62 6), Pepe 7; Nketiah 7 (Balogun 80 6).
Subs: Leno, Macey, Tierney, Saka, Holding, Willock, Azeez.
Rapid Vienna: (3-5–2): Strebinger 6; Sonnleitner 5, Hofmann 6 (Barac 46 6), Greiml 5; Arase 6, Demir 5, Schuster 5, Ritzmaier 6 (Knasmuller 62 6), Ullman 6 (Schick 46 6); Kitagawa 6 (Kara 62 6), Alar 5 (Sulzbacher 77).
Subs: Gartler, Hedl, Grahovic, Stojkovic, Ibrahimoglu.
Referee: Radu Petrescu (Romania) 7.