Mikel Arteta hails Arsenal fans for making difference in win over Rapid Vienna
- Credit: PA
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta praised returning supporters for making a “huge difference” to his team as they eased to a Europa League victory over Rapid Vienna.
Two-thousand fans were in attendance at the Emirates Stadium for the first time in nine months and witnessed the Gunners storm to a 4-1 win.
Already assured of qualification to the knockout stages, this comfortable evening was inspired by a fine Alexandre Lacazette opener just 10 minutes in.
But the result played second fiddle to the return of fans to top-flight football with fans watching while socially distanced - the first supporters to watch a game here since March.
Lacazette opened the scoring with a long-range strike before Pablo Mari, returning to the team for the first time since suffering an ankle injury in June, headed in a second with academy graduates Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith Rowe adding the gloss either side of Kohya Kitagawa’s consolation.
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Arsenal have lost their last three Premier League home games but never looked in danger here, with Arteta reserving special praise for those in the stands.
“It was very special,” he said.
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“I’m delighted to have them back, they made a huge contribution we had 2000 but it looked like many more.
“They were very supportive and encouraging to the team, it makes a huge difference. Thanks so much to them for coming and supporting the team.
“I think the boys showed great energy, character and aggression today right from the beginning - everyone individually played a really good game.”
The issue now for Arsenal is their next league game is a north London derby away to table-topping Tottenham - with Arteta admitting clubs who can have fans present will have an edge.
Asked if it will give teams an advantage, the Spaniard replied: “Probably because this sport without fans is completely different.
“Everything is flatter, the players lose a little bit of purpose and emotion. It is something that you want to share.
“At the end of the day, we are here to entertain, we are here to make the fans enjoy.
“They have a huge passion for our football club and when they are able to transmit that, it gets directly into the players. For me, to have them here home or away, it is always different because of them.”
Lacazette had been on a barren run in front of goal and was quick to celebrate in front of the fans when he scored his impressive goal to break the deadlock.
“It was amazing,” he told BT Sport.
“We were so happy to see the fans today it really helped us during the game, even in bad moments they pushed us to play good obviously we played well it was good football.
“We had two players come back from injury (Mari and Calum Chambers) so we’re really happy for them so it was a good night.”