Arsenal could seal top spot with a point against Rapid Vienna.
In the reverse fixture there was an almost sadistic pleasure derived from watching the Arsenal players get booed by the Austrian home support. Bukayo Saka got clattered unfairly, winning a free-kick, and upon getting to his feet felt the scorn of the Vienna fans.
It was lovely.
Not for the unjust nature of their verdict, but for the simple reason that it wasn’t artificial. Real supporters, venting their own feelings. 241 days separate Thursday’s Europa League group stage clash from the last time Arsenal supporters were able to watch their team against West Ham back in March.
The running joke at the moment is that while only 2,000 will be allowed entry at the Emirates, somehow the official stadium announcement will read full capacity. Yes, very funny.
For now, given the circumstances, it’s a step in the right direction having that number, with the players making an appearance hopefully putting on a show for the returning fans.
And they will. This is a prediction not based solely on the supporters’ presence. With the Premier League fixtures are coming thick and fast over December and little hope of any positive result following in those, the loosened shackles that the players feel in the Europa League have made for vastly better viewing.
A point is all that is needed but three should follow. Mikel Arteta looks set to hand out a few senior debuts, with Miguel Azeez, Ben Cottrell and Charlie Patino some of the names who could have memorable evenings.
Playing with more freedom, we’ve seen a greater quantity of skill and expression on the ball. Attacking in numbers with an extra midfielder given license to join the forwards, more options in advanced areas make Arsenal much less predictable.
The quality of opposition lends to that willingness, admittedly.
For this one, Rapid will have chances and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them put one away, but Arsenal’s potency up front with natural wingers in Pepe and Reiss Nelson offer a balance that is only seen in the Europa League. Throw Emile Smith Rowe in behind and there will be goals.