Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta said the return of fans to Emirates Stadium as they outclassed Rapid Vienna in the Europa League made it a “very special night”.
It had been 271 days since Arsenal fans had last been at their home, for the victory against West Ham United on 7 March - and how the 2,000 allowed in relished watching the Gunners confirm their dominance of Group B.
“I’m delighted to have them back,” Arteta said. “They made a huge contribution. There was only 2,000 but it felt and sounded like a lot more.
“They were very supportive and encouraging to the team and the players have been saying what a huge difference it made. They felt that support.”
Alexandre Lacazette gave those gathered at a social distance inside the cavernous stadium an early reward with a spectacular 25-yard drive after 10 minutes that swerved high beyond the reach of Rapid keeper Richard Strebinger.
Pablo Mari then glanced Reiss Nelson’s corner in off a post before Eddie Nketiah completed the first-half scoring a minute before the interval, heading in after his first effort had been saved by the besieged Strebinger.
Rapid, hopelessly inferior, scrambled a goal back through Kohya Kitigawa early in the second half but Arsenal were never in any danger and substitute Emile Smith Rowe scored a simple fourth from Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ pass.
Arteta’s timely boost
Arsenal’s team bore little resemblance to the side that is likely to play at Spurs in the north London derby on Sunday and the Austrians provided passive opposition.
It was still, however, a convincing victory and one Arsenal manager Arteta desperately needed after a poor start to the Premier League season, including three home defeats, that sees the Gunners languishing in 14th place.
And what a tonic it was for Arteta and his players to hear supporters back inside Emirates Stadium in good voice and spirits as they enjoyed some slick attacking football.
They swiftly and noisily dusted down their anti-Spurs repertoire of songs to provide a backing track to the action, while the famous “1-0 to the Arsenal” chant echoed around Emirates Stadium moments after they went ahead.
There may have been only 2,000 supporters inside the 60,000-capacity stadium but the Arsenal fans still generated great volume and atmosphere despite the reduced numbers - with even the return of club mascot “Gunnersaurus” receiving a rapturous reception.
Arsenal’s players applauded their fans before kick-off and there was a flamboyant sliding celebration in front of the elated supporters by Lacazette after scoring that thrilling opener.
Arteta needed a win of any sort to stem some of the criticism that has been coming his way, especially after very poor performances in home losses to Aston Villa and Wolves, and this was impressive enough as his shadow squad took the opportunity to make a good impression.
The acid test will come at Spurs on Sunday, when Arsenal’s main players such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be in from the start against the current Premier League leaders.
But Arteta’s side required confidence and a win wherever they could take it, and this will have done very nicely after their recent struggles.
“We have been really consistent in this competition,” he said. “The boys have done great. There was a lot of energy, character and aggression. They were hurt from the last defeat and played a really good game.
“Let’s take that into Sunday’s game at Tottenham and do it again.”
Match stats - Arsenal’s best run since seasons they reached finals
- Arsenal have won each of their first five matches in a European competition (excluding qualifiers) for only the second time. The last was in the 2005-06 Champions League, when they went on to reach the final.
- They have scored three or more goals in four consecutive European games for the first time since March 2000. That year they reached the Uefa Cup final.
- Rapid Vienna have lost four of their five away games against English sides in Europe (W1), shipping 13 goals.
- Alexandre Lacazette is just the eighth player to hit 20 goals in the Europa League. It was his first goal in 488 minutes.
- Pablo Mari scored his first Arsenal goal with his first ever shot on target for the Gunners and just his second attempt overall (fourth appearance).
- All 16 of Eddie Nketiah’s goals in his senior club career have been scored from inside the box (11 for Arsenal, 5 for Leeds).
- Three of Emile Smith-Rowe’s four goals for Arsenal have come in the Europa League. His last goal was in the Championship for Huddersfield against West Brom in July.
- 17Cédric Soares
- 20MustafiBooked at 61minsSubstituted forChambersat 70′minutes
- 25ElnenyBooked at 42minsSubstituted forCeballosat 63′minutes
- 24NelsonSubstituted forWillianat 63′minutes
- 9LacazetteSubstituted forSmith Roweat 63′minutes
- 30NketiahSubstituted forBalogunat 81′minutes
- 32Smith Rowe
- 6SonnleitnerBooked at 79mins
- 20HofmannSubstituted forBaracat 45′minutes
- 8RitzmaierSubstituted forKnasmüllnerat 66′minutes
- 31UllmannBooked at 39minsSubstituted forSchickat 45′minutes
- 32KitagawaSubstituted forKaraat 66′minutes
- 19AlarSubstituted forSulzbacherat 78′minutes
- Radu Marian Petrescu
Match ends, Arsenal 4, SK Rapid Wien 1.
Second Half ends, Arsenal 4, SK Rapid Wien 1.
Attempt saved. Dani Ceballos (Arsenal) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Willian.
Attempt missed. Folarin Balogun (Arsenal) right footed shot from the centre of the box is too high. Assisted by Dani Ceballos with a cross.
Attempt missed. Willian (Arsenal) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left. Assisted by Dani Ceballos following a set piece situation.
Folarin Balogun (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Mario Sonnleitner (SK Rapid Wien).
Corner, Arsenal. Conceded by Lukas Sulzbacher.
Attempt saved. Pablo Marí (Arsenal) header from the centre of the box is saved in the top centre of the goal. Assisted by Nicolas Pépé with a cross.
Corner, Arsenal. Conceded by Ercan Kara.
Attempt blocked. Folarin Balogun (Arsenal) header from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Nicolas Pépé with a cross.
Corner, Arsenal. Conceded by Thorsten Schick.
Attempt missed. Pablo Marí (Arsenal) header from the centre of the box is high and wide to the left. Assisted by Cédric Soares with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Arsenal. Conceded by Mateo Barac.
Hand ball by Ercan Kara (SK Rapid Wien).
Attempt missed. Calum Chambers (Arsenal) header from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Willian with a cross following a corner.
Substitution, Arsenal. Folarin Balogun replaces Eddie Nketiah.
Corner, Arsenal. Conceded by Richard Strebinger.
Attempt saved. Dani Ceballos (Arsenal) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top centre of the goal.
Mario Sonnleitner (SK Rapid Wien) is shown the yellow card for hand ball.