Arsenal win on fans’ return to top level football in England
December 04 2020 11:13 PM
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Arsenal fans celebrate after Alexandre Lacazette (right) scored against Rapid Vienna during the Europa League match in London on Thursday night. (Reuters)

AFP/London

For the first time in 270 days, fans were back inside a Premier League ground as Arsenal welcomed 2,000 supporters into the Emirates for Thursday’s routine 4-1 Europa League win over Rapid Vienna. The sparse crowd in a 60,000 capacity stadium were well distanced between two stands and in high spirits despite the Gunners’ poor form of late in the English top-flight.
“I’m delighted to have fans back they make a huge difference,” said Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta. “We had 2,000 but they were loud and they were supportive to the team so thanks to them for coming and making the effort.”
Arsenal’s last home match with a crowd was back in March prior to a three-month stoppage of the sport due to the pandemic. Since returning in June, English top-flight football has been played behind closed doors with Arsenal fans missing out on seeing their side win the FA Cup and Community Shield at Wembley.
Despite Arsenal having already booked their place in the Europa League knockout stages, demand from fans to be one of the lucky few back through the gates crashed the club website on Saturday morning. Club mascot Gunnersaurus was also back after the controversy that saw the club employee, Jerry Quy, who played the role since 1993, let go amid cost-cutting measures before Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil stepped in to cover his salary.
Playing an entire season without crowds would cost Premier League clubs an estimated £700mn ($941mn) and the need to make the most of the fans’ return was evident with Arsenal’s “Armoury” club shop reopened. The atmosphere inspired a much-changed side on the field as Arteta looked ahead of tomorrow’s North London derby against Premier League leaders Tottenham. Spurs were the target of the first chants once the action got underway, showing some things never change no matter the circumstances.
There was soon something to cheer as Alexandre Lacazette smashed in a stunning long-range strike top open the scoring on 10 minutes and ran to celebrate in front of the fans. Pablo Mari quickly headed home a second on his first appearance since March.
Eddie Nketiah added a third before half-time before Kohya Kitagawa’s consolation for the Austrians drew pantomime boos from the crowd. Substitute Emile Smith Rowe rounded off the scoring on a night that will be best remembered for what happened off the field.
Meanwhile, Premier League leaders Tottenham struggled to gain the draw they needed in Linz, finishing 3-3 on Thursday thanks to two penalties, to secure a place in the knock-out rounds of the Europa League. The result in Austria ensured that Antwerp will also advance from Group J. Elsewhere, Braga, AC Milan, Lille, Villarreal, Dinamo Zagreb, Red Star Belgrade, Slavia Prague, Bayer Leverkusen, Rangers, Benfica, Granada and Eindhoven ensured their places in the last 32 with one round of group games still to play. They join Leicester, Arsenal, Hoffenheim and Roma who had already qualified. 
In Linz, the hosts dominated the first half but only scored once, through Peter Michorl. Spurs, who had not managed a shot on target, won a penalty for handball in added time. Gareth Bale converted for his 200th career goal.
Son Heung-min put Spurs ahead on the counter attack in the 56th minute. With Linz still threatening, coach Jose Mourinho made a series of defensive substitutions. Tottenham had three centre backs, three full backs and two defensive midfielders on the field by the 84th minute when Johannes Eggestein still found a huge hole and lashed in a shot that Joe Hart reached but could not keep out. Three minutes later, Spurs regained the lead. One of the two attacking players, Steven Bergwijn was tripped to earn a penalty and the other, Dele Alli, swept it home. Spurs could not keep the lead. Young Frenchman Mamoudou Karamoko smashed in an equaliser from outside the box in added time. The draw was enough to put Tottenham through and next week they will host Antwerp, who beat Ludogorets 3-1, with first place at stake.
In Group H, AC Milan fell two goals behind at home to eliminated Celtic but rallied to win 4-2 and advance. Tom Rogic and Odsonne Edouard scored for the visitors in the first 14 minutes, but Hakan Calhanoglu and Samuel Castillejo responded with two quick goals midway through the half. Jens Petter Hauger and Brahim Diaz, with a clever chip, struck in the second half.
Milan are second in the group, one point behind Lille who also came from behind to win at home. Burak Yilmaz came off the bench in the 77th minute with. Lille losing to 10-man The Turkey striker poked home the equaliser three minutes later and smashed in the winner four minutes after that.
Celtic’s neighbours city Rangers, advanced with 3-2 home victory over Standard Liege. The Belgians, who need to win, took the lead twice in the first half, but James Tavernier hit a penalty just before half time. Scott Arfield won the game in the 65th minute, running onto a pull back to end a crisp move with a precise low drive.
The tightest group is F where Alkmaar fought back to draw 1-1 with Napoli and La Liga leaders Real Sociedad came from behind twice to draw at home with Rijeka, who picked up their first point. The Italians lead by two points from Sociedad and Alkmaar and host the Basques next week.




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