The Emirates has found the soul it never had
By Max Mishcon
I’m not sure how many people reading this can definitively tell me about the atmosphere of Arsenal’s previous stadium. I was only two years old when we moved to the Emirates, but there’s a certain legacy that Highbury left behind. Firstly, it had a perception of being notoriously quiet, hence the nickname ‘Highbury Library’. Secondly, it was the home to all three Premier League winning teams - teams with character and finesse, a certain arrogance and confidence that flowed through all the players. Football that made you jump off your seat and made your jaw drop.
The same can’t be said since the move to the Emirates in 2006. Even Wenger said it himself: "We wanted to create the same atmosphere as Highbury but we left our soul at Highbury. We could never recreate it exactly. We didn't find exactly the same atmosphere."
This is arguably down to the stadium move itself, as the Gunners were forced to sell star players season after season in order to pay back the stadium debt.
But Wenger paid his due diligence, and Arsenal paid back their debt and since then it's not been plain sailing. Nevertheless, in the past few weeks Arteta and Arsenal have truly found what I’d call an equilibrium: There’s a certain level, certain standards expected each week from the players and the team and there’s a clear long-term plan that is being implemented on and off the pitch. I believe when you have a high-achieving club and set of players, it only makes sense that the fans feed off of that energy.
And this season, The Emirates has been rocking.
I’m incredibly fortunate to be able to attend as many home games as I do and I thought it would only make sense to try and document what I’ve experienced so far this season at the Emirates. I had a feeling atmospheres at all grounds would improve following the absence of fans, but the Emirates especially has stayed continuously colosseum-like. The emergence of a fresh, young, loveable squad with cult favourites already has breathed new life into the crowd, chants are ever present for the team and individuals for the entirety of matches - I’ve really admired the energy of the fans this season.
This renewed enthusiasm could also be interpreted as relief, as it appears as if we ACTUALLY have got our Arsenal back after a solid few years of dire football. Possessing the second best home record in the league will always be a contributing factor in having the crowd on your side, with the only two losses at home coming to Chelsea and Citeh.
It was actually the recent Man City loss that inspired me to write this piece because although the loss was excruciating, I still walked away from the stadium with a sense of gratitude and enthralment. I feel as if a few years ago, the consensus of pessimism around the club would’ve rendered the match a write off before it began, and in many respects this game was no different in that we were more hoping for a result rather than expecting one.
But once the game kicked off, a glimmer of hope turned into quiet confidence.
Quiet confidence then turned into extremely loud confidence after Saka placed in Arsenal’s opener. He then ran over to the fans and celebrated with them; and when you see things like this happen, you know you’re experiencing something quite special. Never before has there been such a disconnect between the players and the public. As Premier League footballers are now labelled as celebrities in their own right, valued as mere assets by their clubs, when you see that gap bridged in a way that is so pure and real you can’t help but feel blessed to be living in that very moment.
The players now have a direct impact on the fans too. Aaron Ramsdale has formed a solid rapport with the Clock End and the North Bank, Odegaard will often turn to the crowd and wave his arms to fire them up and Saka’s celebrations are indicative of the mutual love between the supporters and the players.
For a long time, it seemed the Emirates would remain pretty lifeless. But this season it’s found its character, a character that accepts and embraces everyone, a character that soaks up noise and a roaring crowd, a character that is there to get behind their team in the good times, and the bad ones too.
After the vilified Stuart Atwell blew for full-time against Man City, an anguished Arsenal side fell to the floor in dejection. Rather than the usual boos we were all accustomed to, the infamous “we love you Arsenal, we do!” rang around the stadium. Even after a loss as painful as that, I couldn’t have felt any more proud to be an Arsenal fan.