Who the hell turned the noise up? The Emirates, not exactly renowned as a hotbed of high-decibel cacophony, was booming all day. People were looking at each other at times, as if seeking confirmation that it really was this loud, this fiery, this emotionally raucous, for a game against Fulham in August. The pubs hosted sing-songs boisterous enough for cup semi-finals. The concourses were deafening with a knees-up that felt more like an away game. In the stands, there was a giddy desperation more associated with matches against big rivals. It didn’t feel entirely… normal compared to many of the Emirates years.
What’s happening here? “It’s because everyone is in love with the club again,” offered one fan in the North Bank by way of explanation. At the front of the Clock End, the Ashburton Army leapt about as if in a mosh pit. As one old-timer put it, “The happy is back.”
Watch out, the celebration police are lurking and will be cracking their knuckles, ready to wade in. But on planet Arsenal, they just want more, and more, of the in-it-together synergy that had been dulled for too long.
It means a lot to Mikel Arteta. He has been fixated on regenerating the triangular relationship between the supporters, players and club since day one. He mentioned it at his maiden press conference in 2019 and voluntarily brings it up virtually every match day. These things can sound trite or obvious, but he has been so adamant about it. He constantly mentioned the desire to be with the fans during the behind-closed-doors months and has been praising the growing bonds since the doors were re-opened.
It was hardly a secret that there was a disconnect around the club when Arteta arrived, a hangover from some difficult preceding seasons which took in the division of the tail end of Arsene Wenger’s time and the unconvincing Unai Emery spell that followed. The atmosphere pushed tangible pressure onto the players. The flow of emotion from sections of the crowd back then included a range of negatives — impatience, apathy, frustration, criticism. That is just how it is when things are not going well.
Over the sunny weekend, as Arteta hared off the pitch and into the inner sanctum after the frenetic finale, he bumped into someone dear to him who was struck by the changing atmosphere. “I met a person who I love that I haven’t seen for a while,” he said. “It’s the first time he has been at the stadium for two years and he says it’s the best it has been since Highbury.”
That is big talk. Arsenal left their soulful, intimate home at Highbury 16 years ago now. That was also a wondrous period when they were used to success, with multiple league titles, cups and major European nights to cherish. Naturally, it is easier to feel that bond during the good times.
That said, everyone around Arsenal now is appreciative of how the support is underpinning how the team feel able to play without fear and inhibition, even if somebody makes a mistake. Captain Martin Odegaard had a message for everyone: “Thanks for the amazing support. You brought us the win today. Coming from 1-0 down you helped us to get back into the game.”
The mood music is loud and proud. It seems like everyone can feel the difference compared to the more pressurised times and enjoy it for what it is.
Arsenal’s victory over Fulham — a demonstration of perseverance and spirit — keeps them bubbling along nicely. Some big results elsewhere underlined how serious the competition is to live at the top. But still, this opening period of the season has shown multiple positive tweaks to the team.
The high-calibre influence of the newcomers, with Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and William Saliba all shining, has clearly upped levels. Forced to change the first XI for the first time this season against Fulham, Arteta also successfully altered the strategy during the game and Eddie Nketiah’s cameo as an extra forward was particularly helpful in forcing chances and creating problems for the opposition.
The absence of Thomas Partey and Zinchenko, who has made his presence felt in midfield, was noticeable and that remains an area that might be problematic if they are unavailable for too long. But the team collective is strong and they found a way to pull off a trick they seldom mastered last season in coming back from a deficit.
4 – Arsenal have won each of their first four games of a Premier League season for only the third time, after 2003-04, when they went on to win the league, and 2004-05 when they finished runners-up. Building. pic.twitter.com/oPxdG3e4Ee
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 27, 2022
Arsenal will score cleaner, more aesthetic goals than Martin Odegaard’s deflection and Gabriel Maghalaes’s redemptive tap-in. But the nature of the way the goals came about reflects how the team are trying to express themselves this season. Make no mistake, this was a test of resolve, physicality, temperament and Arsenal had the tools to pass.
There is some recognition of that in the lyrics to the song chosen to serenade their manager with. “He knows exactly what we need.” That trust was far from universal in the first seasons of Arteta’s management. The All Or Nothing Amazon documentary might have something to do with the new mood. Peering behind the curtain, seeing the efforts of all at London Colney and the dynamic, determined energy of Arteta putting across his beliefs has softened some of the more strident views.
Given the vast expanse of the global fanbase, each individual with their own take and feelings, it’s difficult to generalise too much about a collective mood, but inside the Emirates, there is a unity that is unmistakable. It has been a while, so it really is impossible to miss it.
Arteta has reached an important base on his climb up Arsenal’s mountain, where everyone is pulling in the same direction. To plant that flag matters to him as a sign of upward progress. “I don’t know any top teams or winning teams that don’t have that connection with the club and with the supporters,” he explained.
As he said on day one, “If we don’t have the right culture, in difficult moments the tree is going to shake.” The roots are more firmly bedded now, the branches are stronger, which they will need to be to try to weather bigger storms ahead against the very best.
(Top photo: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)