By Rob Kelly
We marked an historic occasion at Emirates Stadium on Thursday night with a fine, flowing performance to beat Rapid Vienna in front of 2,000 fans.
It had been 271 days since our supporters were last inside Emirates Stadium, and while we were only allowed to grant access to just a fraction of the capacity, this felt very special.
With stringent safety measures in place, those Arsenal fans lucky enough to be in the ground made their presence felt with a vocal performance that gave the impression of a much larger crowd.
From as early as the pre-match warm ups, it felt different, it felt so much better. The energy from the home support transmitted to the team – and they responded in thrilling style.
With little more than 10 minutes on the clock, the supporters inside the Emirates were treated to their first live goal in nine months, and what a goal it was as Alex Lacazette thumped a screamer in from 25 yards.
It was the France international’s first in nine games, and his joyous knee-slide celebration in front of the East Stand was another indicator that we are edging back towards the game we know and love.
Moments later, Shkodran Mustafi glanced a header wide after fine work by Nicolas Pepe, but we did not have long to wait to double our advantage as Pablo Mari headed in his first goal in our colours from a Reiss Nelson corner.
It was a doubly sweet moment for the Spanish centre back, having missed close to six months with an ankle injury - and his celebration told its own story.
We were in the mood to make this special occasion even more memorable, and Lacazette soon hit the post before Ainsley Maitland-Niles, playing in his favoured midfield position, went on a driving run before dinking a shot wide.
But just before the interval we had our third of the night, an electric, sweeping move forward involving Lacazette, Pepe, and Nelson before Eddie Nketiah scored at the second time of asking.
But Rapid hit back within two minutes of the restart, Koya Kitagawa firing home despite two heroic blocks on the line by Sead Kolasinac.
We soon reasserted our dominance and Maitland-Niles went close again only to see his close-range shot saved, while Pepe also had two opportunities in quick succession.
But we soon had our fourth, as Pepe pounced on a defensive error and found the overlapping Maitland-Niles and he laid it on a plate for Emile Smith Rowe to poke home moments after coming on.
It was a fun night – and there was further good news as Calum Chambers came on with 20 minutes remaining for his first appearance since sustaining a knee injury back on December 29, 2019.
We would threaten again before the end, but the scoring was done – and all that remained was a standing ovation from the Emirates crowd at the final whistle, and a thank you from the players to those fans.
What a night. It’s so good to have you back.
HOW IT HAPPENED
WHAT IT MEANS
It doesn’t get much bigger than our next game, as we travel down the Seven Sisters Road to take on Tottenham on Sunday afternoon.
After that is a trip to Dublin for our final Europa League group-stage game against Dundalk, before our first Premier League home match in front of supporters when we host Burnley.
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