Mikel Arteta believes his Arsenal project is suffering because of a disconnect between players and the fans caused by the ongoing pandemic.
Emirates Stadium has been empty on matchdays since the Spaniard was diagnosed with Covid-19 back in March and he’s concerned that his squad haven’t experienced the highs and lows of the last eight months alongside supporters.
The boss seems particularly concerned that his stars, who’ve won a couple of trophies but continue to wobble in the Premier League, aren’t able to build momentum by feeding off the energy of a motivated crowd and vice versa.
“It is definitely affecting the players,” Arteta told Arsenal.com. “Now, for example with the lockdown: you win at Old Trafford, you feel excited, your adrenaline is really high, you go home and you want to celebrate, you want to do something, but you just go home, by yourself – some of the players live by themselves – and you go home, sit on the sofa, and that’s it.
“To find that purpose and say, ‘Okay, I work so hard for this moment, I want to enjoy it, I want to have people around me’ but you have nothing, so it is a completely different life.
“In our case, when you try to build a new project you need to engage the fans with the team. They have to see live what the team is transmitting. It is completely different on the TV, you are not able to do that.
“Without creating that chemistry between players and fans, for them to believe, for them to see live what we are trying to do, it is complicated. We need that. The players have to feel, ‘Wow, these guys are really behind us, they are really pushing, they are liking what we are trying to do…I feel more motivated, more engaged, I want to participate’ – and we are lacking that.”
To be fair, Arsenal isn’t the only club struggling without fans. Home advantage has gone out of the window this season. According to Footystats.org, 44% of Premier League games this season have been won by away sides compared to 37% by home sides. Alongside that, away goals are being scored at a rate of 1.67 per game compared to 1.47 home goals per game. For comparison, in 2018/19 – the last full season uninterrupted by Covid – home sides won 48% of the time.
Having originally been pencilled in for October, it’s now not clear when fans will be allowed back into stadiums in England. The country remains in a state of near-lockdown until early December and there’s a fairly high chance that could be extended right up to the Christmas period.
Yesterday Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden hosted a 90-minute ‘virtual future of football’ summit that touched on the subject. While there are some suggestions fans could return to some grounds in lower-risk areas before Christmas, it seems unlikely this would apply to top-level sport.