Dwindling numbers tell their own story as Arsenal fans endure more mediocrity
It was one of those nights when Arsenal fans may have been thinking: ‘What am I doing here?’
After all, Eintracht supporters had been excused attending – the misbehaviour of fans at a previous group game resulting in a ticket ban.
If the sight of a completely deserted away corner was not surreal enough – as if the visitors were a little-supported side from Kazakhstan rather than one of the bigger Bundesliga sides – the rest of the ground looked less than half full. Those who stayed away and missed this sorry 2-1 defeat will consider it a good night's work.
Although they gave the official attendance for a Europa League match against Belarussian side BATE Borisov two years ago as more than 54,000, turnstile clicks registered 25,909.
The tickets sold stat from this latest Europa league fixture may have papered over the cracks but nobody was fooled. It was 49,419 officially but in reality, nowhere near.
“No way I’m going up to the press box at half time to announce the number. I’d just get slaughtered,” said the media press room host at half-time.
He has suffered enough ridicule in the past for that ritual where he drops the written attendance figure onto the desks of disbelieving hacks.
We are used to seeing the ground half-deserted 10 minutes before the end as people try to beat the rush. Seeing it like this during the game was a little less common.
At times, the atmosphere was every bit as flat as the attendance, with groans as much as applause of encouragement and demands to ‘get forward.’
For two of those in the Arsenal ranks, anything less than outright hostility would have suited. Both the returning Granit Xhaka and boss Unai Emery have had to put up with unsympathetic treatment – the sort that invites the prospect of curtailed stays at the club.
And there was some genuinely warm applause when Xhaka took a knock just before half time and needed to briefly come off after receiving attention.
The mood lightened when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored with a goal out of the blue just before the break. Chants of ‘You’re not singing any more’ and ‘You might as well go home’ were directed at that empty away section. There was almost a kind of ironic joviality in the air.
But two goals early in the second half from Dalchi Kamada for Frankfurt soon dampened the enthusiasm again on a cold night in north London when the home side’s limitations were once again laid bare.
Somehow, the celebration noises from handful of German stowaway fans in the corporate section in the middle tiers at the Emirates exceeded any noise Gunners fans had managed.
A few ‘Emery Out’ signs were hoisted by some disgruntled fans who frankly have not had much cause to be gruntled since the start of the season. To the very end, Emery kept pointing to where he wanted his players to pass. It made no difference as the Gunners extended their winless run to seven matches.
It was not outright toxic, more increasingly fed up in nature. Much more of this and that lowest ever attendance figure will come under threat again and again.