Arsenal 4. Rapid Vienna 1. Europa League
‘We hate Tottenham!’ Nine months they had waited to see their team again and the lucky winners of Arsenal’s 2,000 golden tickets to attend their first match back with spectators chose their opening song with more than a hint of humour.
Only Tottenham fans will be in attendance when Mikel Arteta’s men go a couple of miles down the road for Sunday’s North London derby, so the chosen few did not want to miss their only opportunity to get their voices heard in the red side of town this week.
Having covered dozens of lockdown matches in empty grounds it was surprising to hear how much noise 2,000 fans can generate as Arsenal became the first Premier League ground to admit paying spectators since March.
It was also a revelation to witness how a bit of atmosphere raised the tempo of a match that could otherwise have been a lifeless affair with Arsenal already qualified for the last 32 of the Europa League.
Captain for the night Alex Lacazette, woefully out for form in recent weeks, was first to respond. He capped a rapid start by lashing in a right foot shot from a full 30 yards with 10 minutes gone.
Tall Spanish defender Pablo Mari marked his injury comeback and first start of the season with a perfectly placed glancing header to score a second from Reiss Nelson’s corner eight minutes later.
Then Eddie Nketiah, who finished off a fine team move and sublime Nelson pass by firing in a goalkeeper rebound from his own shot.
Both fans and players alike flagged after the break as Rapid Vienna pulled a goal back through Koya Kitagawa before substitute Emile Smith Rowe netted Arsenal’s fourth.
And before anyone at Arsenal gets too carried away they should prepare for much tougher opposition on Sunday as well as 2,000 Tottenham fans who will also have a lot to get off their chests!
ARSENAL: Runarsson, Cedric, Mustafi (Chambers 70), Mari, Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles, Nelson (Willian 63), Elneny (Ceballos 63), Pepe, Nketiah (Balogun 81), Lacazette (Smith Rowe 63).
RAPID VIENNA: Strebinger, Sonnleitner, Hofmann (Barac 45), Greiml, Arase, Demir, Schuster, Ritzmaier (Knasmullner 66), Ullmann (Schick 45), Kitagawa (Kara 66), Alar (Sulzbacher 78).
Referee: Radu Petrescu (Romania).