By Oliver Yew
There was a time when visiting supporters to north London knew Arsenal‘s home ground as ‘Highbury the library’. The Gunners’ faithful were seen as quiet supporters and they were the butt of all the jokes and chants from the away support.
Fast-forward to the present day and the Emirates Stadium, while a hugely impressive football arena it can lack matchday atmosphere.
But a few weeks ago the mighty Barcelona came to London and the Emirates transformed from an attractive stadium where beautiful football is watched into a cauldron where the fans helped roar Arsene Wenger’s side from a goal down on to a famous victory.
It was a memorable night in the club’s history but it was the atmosphere created by the fans which will be remembered for years to come.
The noise created by the fans was not something lost on the players either.
Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas tweeted: “The atmosphere yesterday was something special. You made us do what we did. The best I have experienced since we’ve played at the Emirates!”
Midfielder Jack Wilshere also posted his thoughts on Twitter: “Just want to congratulate the amazing fans tonight! Best I’ve seen by far….”
Are you not entertained? | Arsenal’s home fans often struggle to generate a buzz
But one week on, the Gunners faced Leyton Orient in the FA Cup playing for the chance to take on Manchester United in the quarter-final of the competition and the quiet face of Arsenal’s fluctuating atmosphere again reared its head.
The crowd could hardly murmur a whisper and it was the chants from the visiting supporters of ‘5-0 and you still don’t sing’ and ‘shhhhhhh’ that could be heard around the Emirates.
It was no surprise to Kevin Whitcher, editor of Arsenal fanzine The Gooner, who thinks the atmosphere is generally poor at the Emirates.
He said: “I think it is down to a mixture of the acoustics in the stadium preventing noise travelling easily and the different type of crowd that can afford to attend football these days.”
He also insists Arsenal supporters are only interested when the bigger teams visit north London.
“Fans only get worked up about particular matches. So when the opposition doesn’t mean as much, they are simply less vocal,” he added.
But with Arsenal still involved in three competitions this season, Arsene Wenger has described every game left in his side’s fight for silverware as a ‘cup final’.
This week shows this theory like no other for the Gunners as they face Sunderland in the Premier League on Saturday, Barcelona at the Nou Camp on Tuesday and Manchester United in the FA Cup next Saturday evening.
While no-one needs reminding of how important the clashes against the Spanish champions and Sir Alex Ferguson’s side are, the Emirates faithful may be forgiven in forgetting the importance of Sunderland.
Chelsea’s win over Manchester United in the Premier League was the perfect tonic for the club after the disappointment of the League Cup final and it propelled them into a better position in the title race without even playing.
This has added extra pressure on the Sunderland fixture and it now becomes arguably the Gunners’ most important fixture of the week. Win it and Arsenal close the gap on Manchester United at the top of the table to one point ahead of Sir Alex Ferguson’s side’s tough trip to Liverpool.
With Fabregas and Alex Song struggling to be fit for the game at the weekend and Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie already ruled out, the Gunners will not have an easy time against a side they have only beaten once in their last five meetings.
And Kevin Whitcher wants the fans to be a real driving force for the team when the difficult situations arrive on Saturday.
“The crowd can make a great deal of difference by motivating the players and pressurising the officials“
“The crowd can make a great deal of difference, both by motivating the players to give extra and pressurising the officials to give 50/50 decisions Arsenal’s way,” he said.
“Whatever your reservations about the manager, the players and the way club is run, we are all supporters and for the 90 minutes the team are on the field, we must back them and do everything they can to ensure they achieve what they are capable of.”
It is something not lost on REDaction – a group of match-going Arsenal fans who have come together to bring even more fun and noise to match days.
The organisation has played its part in a number innovations at the Emirates, including creating a REDsection where fans can go to a game knowing they will be part of a 775 strong group of people who want to sing at the games.
They also provide banners and flags around the ground to show support for the players.
A spokesman for REDaction said: “I think if we are in a title run-in, the atmosphere will take care of itself, but our job is to convince people it’s important, and that their support makes a difference.
“The players being on Twitter and praising how good the fans were after the Barcelona game definitely helps with that.
“But the league is there for us. If we want it, the fans will need to play almost as big a part as the players.”
Go here to see the original:
Arsenal are in the hunt for three trophies – now is the time for the Emirates to find its voice