Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says Easter and the team’s poor league campaign was to blame for the many empty seats at the Emirates on Sunday, but insists the stay-away fans will be back for Thursday’s Europa League quarterfinal against CSKA Moscow.
At least one third of the seats were empty during the 3-0 win over Stoke, even though Arsenal still claimed that more than 59,000 tickets were sold for the game.
It is the third Premier League home game in a row where thousands of Gunners fans have stayed away, with the team no longer fighting for a top-four place.
However, Wenger insisted he is not worried, and believes fans will turn out for the first leg against CSKA Moscow, with the Europa League now the only competition that can salvage the team’s season.
“They will be back on Thursday, don’t worry,” Wenger said. “It’s explainable by the fact that it’s Easter, it’s a family happening when people go away. It’s the fact that we don’t go for a lot in people’s mind in the Premier League.
“Overall in the Premier League in the last two, three weeks we faced that problem. It’s just down to the fact that we don’t fight for the championship and people know that now that will not change.”
Wenger also insisted that his team have given fans good value for their money at home this season, even though poor away results killed off any hopes of competing for the league title.
“At home we had quite a strong season, maybe one of the strongest for a long time. I think [because of] the combination of quality and number of goals scored, and the quality of our games we produced here.
“We lost two games at home, one against Man City that was just after the League Cup final, and one against Man United where we had 33 shots on goal. We played an outstanding performance. But it’s away from home that we have lost our opportunities and the fans are disappointed by that.”
The win over Stoke, though, came despite a lacklustre performance for the opening 70 minutes, before three late goals handed the Gunners a flattering scoreline.
Striker Alexandre Lacazette netted the third goal from the penalty spot to mark his return from knee surgery, and midfielder Jack Wilshere said he was pleased to see the Frenchman back among the goals.
“I’m buzzing for Laca. I know how hard he’s worked. He didn’t take his injury well, but nobody does,” Wilshere told the Arsenal website. “He was down but he knew what it takes to come back.
“He’s worked hard and only trained a couple of days, but he was out there and looked like he’s not been away. It’s good for the team, good for him and I’m happy for him.”