The knee-jerk world of social media is not always a reliable barometer of how a fanbase feels but, during the lockout, it has been the only way to judge what they have made of Arsenal’s worst start to a season since 1981.
The mood on social media is one of frustration and concern. No one is calling for Arteta to go, but some doubts have been raised about his credentials.
When he guided the Gunners to the FA Cup in August, Arteta was viewed as a messiah, but now some are worried the wheels could come off – just as they did for Unai Emery this time last year.
Arteta, however, remains upbeat and optimistic about the positive impact supporters returning could have.
“I can only see positives and I expect them [the fans] to be supportive as it’s the only way to get out of this situation,” he said.
“And it’s not a secret – when you see the top teams, how they act and how the support acts towards the team, you name me one where they [the fans] go against the team. I haven’t seen it, so the only way to do it is with them and we need them.”
The absence of supporters has hurt every club, but throughout the pandemic Arteta has also spoken about its damaging impact on the “connection” with fans. They have missed the lows, but crucially the highs too, which for Arsenal includes winning the FA Cup and Community Shield, while also defeating Liverpool at home.
“We can talk about the difficult moments we’ve had,” said Arteta. “But when we’ve had really good moments, with them it would have been more special and generated that connection with the team.”
When Arsenal play on Thursday night, Arteta and the team will have the chance to rebuild that connection. It will be a different experience for everyone, not least because of the Covid-19 guidelines in place to ensure fans remain safe.
Only 2,000 can attend, with fans wearing face masks and entering the stadium via a pre-assigned turnstile. Hugs, high fives and handshakes should be avoided with people who are not within fans’ individual groups.
“It is going to be extraordinary to have the supporters back, it will feel strange,” said Arteta.
“The club has done amazing work to facilitate everybody at short notice to be able to attend and I am sure it will work really well. I am feeling sorry as well for thousands of fans that I am sure would like to make it, but can’t be there.”
Those lucky few who will be there on Thursday night claimed their tickets on Saturday morning when they went on sale on a “first come, first served” basis to gold and premium members, who made an initial payment and registered for the ballot in September.
Arsenal will run a ballot for future home games, while there are plans for some tickets to go to NHS workers. However, there wasn’t time to set up such an operation for Thursday night’s game.
While Arteta believes Arsenal need their fans, they also need a win against Rapid Vienna. Qualification for the Europa League knockout stages has already been secured, but a victory – and a good performance in front of supporters – would surely lift spirits.
“We need to give a really good performance and we have to win the game,” said Arteta. “The mood of the club within is very strong.”
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