Six years have passed since Arsenal made the short move across Drayton Park to their new home at Ashburton Grove; The Emirates Stadium. There was obvious great excitement at the prospect of moving to a new 60,361 seater all-purpose arena, which would see the dawn of a new era in the clubs history. But a little over half a decade on from the move, would it have all panned out differently if the club remained at their beloved Highbury home?
Arsene Wenger is one of the most respected individuals within the fabric of football, but he is currently enduring a testing campaign. For the first time in the Frenchman’s stewardship, Arsenal are truly fighting for fourth place and Champions League qualification; something most Gunners have taken for granted since his arrival way back in 1996. Unsurprisingly, many Arsenal fans are becoming disgruntled at not only their sides tag as underachieving giants, but also their lack of silverware for a distinct period of time.
The last trophy to bear Arsenal’s name was the FA Cup which was won way back in 2005 in Cardiff as the Gunners overcame Manchester United in a penalty shootout. In the time since, Arsenal have failed to remain in the Premier League top two, and have managed just two top three finishes in the 2007/08 and 2009/10 seasons respectively. The clubs dip in fortunes seems to have coincided with the move to the Emirates so is there really something to do with the clubs departure from Highbury? Is there such thing as an Emirates hangover?
If we examine the evidence, Highbury was one of the smallest Premier League pitches measuring some 100 x 67 yards with the Emirates scaling a larger 105 x 68 yards. Although the figures may not appear on first glance to convey much difference, the associations made between both stadia and their respective environments certainly do.
Highbury certainly earned a reputation as one of the toughest grounds to visit for opposing teams. The crowd were packed in to four individually designated terraces, and were tight to the pitch, creating an intimidating and vociferous atmosphere. For live games, the viewer was always aesthetically comforted by the nearby essence of the broadcast. Yes, back in those days it was somewhat easier for the crowd to display their supporting attributes towards talents such as Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira. These players achieved unprecedented success in comparison to what has followed with the trophy-less Gunners now competing in an arena which has been described as quiet at the best of times by away supporters.
But supporters banter aside, although the Emirates is one of the few modern stadia which still remains in quite close proximity to the pitch, the 60,000 capacity means many fans sit much higher up and far away from the field of play. With the exception of Arsenal’s so-called RedAction corner, a lot of the atmosphere is lost in the tall reaches of the stadium’s massive structure, thus less fan support transmits to the pitch.
If we look at some of the older Premier League stadia such as at Anfield, The Kop remains one of the most vociferous terraces in the country. Although it may be argued that Liverpool find themselves in a similar league position to Arsenal, rendering the atmosphere argument a mock, it does remain clear that there are clear differences in fan culture. Surely all of the Arsenal fans haven’t become quiet overnight?
Capacity must also be reviewed. Back in 2006 ahead of the move, then Arsenal managing director Keith Edelman explained
“When we move to Emirates Stadium we will have a higher percentage of our income from gates”.
Emirates Stadium does seat some 21,942 more people than at the clubs former home and the club can offer more match day tickets to fans, thus increasing gate revenue, but has this had a detrimental affect also?
For one, the stadium project cost a whopping £390 million in total, and the clubs financial stance has been to pay back the debt when necessary. Having stayed at Highbury, the club may have had more money to spend on more marquee names which the Arsenal fans crave.
Moreover, with the greater capacities in modern stadia, comes the corporate verses real fans debate. Roy Keane’s famous quote surrounding the prawn sandwich brigade could be given some credence as Arsenal play host to greater numbers of corporate admirers nowadays than they ever did whilst at Highbury.
What is sure is that there is some correlation between Arsenal’s success and the stadium move. Can the Gunners truly make the Emirates Stadium home over the coming years, by adding another year to their proud trophy band that spans the edge of the upper terraces?
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