OPINION: Emirates Must Find it's Voice

'Do do do, football in a library,' is a chant measured at home supporters up and down the country when they dare not sing for 30 seconds. At the Emirates though, it feels like we are subjected to this tedious act on a weekly basis. This in itself is nothing new; supporters of a certain age will of course remember taunts of 'Highbury Library'. 

However, there is some truth to those particular statements. There is no doubt that things have seemed a little more subdued at the Emirates this season when compared to the last campaign, but that is perhaps to be expected. The season brought about so much emotion. We returned as genuine contenders following years of mediocrity, while the connection between the team and the fans was re-established after what had often seemed unfixable. 

During the latter years of the Arsene Wenger era, and then during Unai Emery's tenure, visiting the Emirates had become a chore and put simply, it was no longer fun. Towards the end of the 21/22 season, there was a noticeable shift. All of a sudden the club felt like it was once again united with a project to believe in. Mikel Arteta and Edu Gaspar deserve an awful lot of credit for that feat alone. 

Atmosphere Lacking

There can be no doubt though that the atmosphere at home games, and to a lesser extent on the road, has waned this season. This can be attributed to multiple facets, not least the heightened level of expectation that naturally occurs as a result of a team being successful. Last season, Arsenal rode the wave of the perennial underdogs, despite leading the way for so much of the campaign. Games were often tight, decided by individual moments of brilliance or by sheer desire. Nowadays, Arsenal dominate games and aim to suffocate their opponents by dictating play in the middle third. On the face of it, it isn't quite as exciting. 

The signing of Declan Rice for £105m raised the stakes. A transformative signing no doubt, but a pragmatic addition. Rice does incredible things on a football pitch, but those things are largely functional. His arrival brought about the progression that this Arsenal side required, but his transfer raised expectation. If you are going to sign players like Rice for that sort of price tag, then you have to be challenging for, if not winning the big prizes.

Despite this new established control on games, Arsenal still maintain an ability to produce the unpredictable. Those occurrences have undoubtedly yielded the best of the Arsenal faithful. The late goals against both Manchester clubs at the Emirates, or those on the road at Brentford and Luton rival anything from last season. Yet there is still a feeling that the ground has been flat. 

Across the last campaign, there were of course moments where the atmosphere inside the Emirates arguably topped anything that the ground has seen since its opening in 2006. The outpouring of emotion following Reiss Nelson's stoppage-time winner over Bournemouth will live long in the memory. Likewise, victories against Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester United also brought the best out of the fanbase. It's easy to remember those raucous scenes. But how many will recall with fondness the silence that dominated in the 3-0 defeat to Brighton. Or how about the 85 minutes that proceeded the final flurry in the 3-3 draw with Southampton? 

Last season was special, albeit without delivering the desired prize. It is natural that fans will reminisce fondly about previous highlights. What does seem to ring true is that, as is the case at the majority of grounds, the football on display and the moments created undoubtedly influence the crowds reaction. There is a myth that places like Anfield and St James' Park bring about a constant cacophony of noise, whereas I can tell you from multiple experiences, this is simply not the case. In truth, the only ground I've been to over the past couple of years that I've witnessed a consistent and deafening atmosphere was away at Lens. 

Ballot System

Many fans have complained about the current system in use for Red and Silver members wishing to obtain tickets. Arsenal introduced a ballot system for Red and Silver members at the beginning of this campaign and many have argued that this change has had a negative impact on the atmosphere in the ground. Being unable to select seating locations as well as a lack of consistency of supporters in attendance has lead to many calls for this system to be changed. It is clear, however, that supply quite simply outweighs demand. 

Arsenal have in excess of 42,000 season ticket holders, approximately 30,000 silver members and over 200,000 red members. Factor in 3,000 away supporters and this leaves approximately 15,000 seats to be distributed amongst 230,000 fans. Arsenal have stated the following information regarding ticketing in each window:
  • Silver - 1,800 tickets + 1,600 in the Family Enclosure.
  • Red - 2,900 tickets + 300 in the Family Enclosure.
  • Supporters Clubs - 1,100 tickets
  • Disabled Supporters - 580 tickets
Through the ballot system, the only feasible way for supporters to obtain tickets is to simply apply for every game. For many, this is not viable and negates the point in having a flexible membership such as Silver or Red. Meanwhile, the Ticket Exchange is another option, but this has shown its limitations across the campaign. The system is ordinarily overloaded, meaning that tickets posted by members sell within seconds. Any success is usually as a result of hours of hard work refreshing the page. 

Ashburton Army

Another element that has been raised with regards to atmosphere is The Ashburton Army. No doubt, they made a significant contribution to the atmosphere last season. Their constant chanting and tifo's produced in the Clock End contributed to the grounds character and at times, made the Emirates a genuinely intimidating place to come too. Due to the increased demand for tickets, the organisation have had their allocation in the ground significantly reduced and this has been noticeable in relation to the atmosphere. 

In the recent 5-0 win over Crystal Palace, Arsenal were greeted with a tifo of giant scarf in the Clock End. The aim was to encourage supporters to raise their scarves during the rendition of North London Forever, which many fans took part in. However, the atmosphere quickly became subdued, despite an early goal from Gabriel. Perhaps this was expected following a run of three straight defeats, with a nervousness felt prior to kick off. As the game progressed, Arsenal were never under any threat of losing the game, and subsequently this contributed to another flat atmosphere.

They are a group who have not been without their criticism though. Their controversial social media posts with blurred out faces have raised questions regarding their motives, while a report was released at the end of last season regarding the use of antisemitic language. The group have defended themselves regarding this, but it could perhaps explain the now fractured relationship between them and the club. 

Moving Forward

Arsenal continued their resurgence in form on Tuesday night with a comfortable 2-1 win over Nottingham Forest. The crowd also seemed to return to their best, out-singing the home support for much of the evening and helping to drive the team to a valuable three points. 

The Gunners face a massive game on Sunday against Liverpool, and know that a win is vital if they are to maintain their title challenge. The crowd will no doubt have to play their part and will need to be at their best if Arsenal are to make home-field advantage count. A return to the noise levels of last season could be the difference between a mediocre season and a special one.