Great Britain

Arsenal 4 Rapid Vienna 1: Lacazette inspires Gunners as Arteta’s boys put on show for returning fans to seal top spot

STRUGGLING Arsenal finally found their voice again as Mikel Arteta’s team turned on the style for their returning supporters.

The club must have invited the 2,000 most vocal season ticket holders in their entire fanbase to mark the occasion of the first Premier League ground coming out of lockdown.

Because the handful of Gooners rattling around the 60,000-seat stadium made more noise than an Emirates full house usually generates.

Every pass was cheered to the rafters as the lucky few went out of their way to make sure they were heard as well as seen.

And their efforts were rewarded with a rare night of stress-free football as Arteta’s men secured first place in their Champions League group with their fifth straight win in the competition.

It was all a far cry from the last time there was an Emirates crowd back in February, when Arsenal went out in extra-time to Olympiakos.

That was also the night that a number of Arsenal executives contracted coronavirus from visiting owner Evangelos Marinakis and 12 days later Arteta’s positive test plunged the whole of football into shutdown.

Now, finally, some sort of normality is returning to the game and Arsenal will be hoping that this comprehensive victory will prove to be a much-needed turning point.

Arteta had described Sunday’s home defeat by Wolves as “a stab to the chest” and with a trip to top-of-the-table Spurs on the horizon it was no surprise that he changed his entire starting 11 last night.

And he could not have asked for a more positive response from his shadow players.

Stand-in skipper Alex Lacazette got the party started with an absolute belter from 30 yards which swerved all over the place to leave keeper Richard Strebinger completely bewildered.

That was the Frenchman’s first goal since September and a strike worthy of the standing ovation it received.

Even better was to follow seven minutes later when Pablo Mari, back in action after a six-month ankle injury, guided Reiss Nelson’s corner inside the far post with a deft header.

Eddie Nketiah applied the finishing touch to a sweet six-man passing movie when he nodded home a minute before the break.

And substitute Emile Smith Rowe also found the net within minutes of replacing Lacazette midway through the second-half. 

It was hard to believe that Rapid were still playing for qualification, nor that they had given Arsenal such a scare in their first group game in Austria.

They briefly got their act together to reduce the deficit through Kohya Kitagawa, who finally volleyed home after two goal-line blocks by Sead Kolasinac.

But nothing was going to rain on Arsenal’s parade despite one malcontent waving a placard demanding ‘Bring back Mesut’ when the players went over to acknowledge the cheers.

The return to duty of club mascot Gunnersaurus had prompted suggestions that the absent German had finally found gainful employment.

But sadly those rumours proved to be as wide of the mark as a Shkodran Mustafi header.

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