LONDON – Of course it is a magnificent stadium, but Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium did not make much of an impression on me on Monday night, at least not as much as the old Highbury did back in the late 1990s when I visited.
It could well have had to do with the fact that this current Arsenal team is nothing like the exciting one that had the legendary Thierry Henry leading the attack and Tony Adams stopping the opposition’s attacks from reaching David Seaman.
But then again, it’s not as if the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette are not quality players.
Sure they had some help from referee Robert Madley – he made two dodgy penalty decisions both in favour of the Gunners, firstly waving away what should have been a spot-kick against the hosts, and then giving them a rather soft one which Lacazette converted – in putting away West Bromwich Albion 2-0.
But that should not be allowed to take away from their workmanlike showing that was worthy of the three points.
For me, however, I was left wondering whether the trip to the Emirates was worth the £50 (an outrageous R900) our hosts shelled out for the match ticket.
Unlike at the London Stadium on Saturday, when the atmosphere for the West Ham-Tottenham match was electric throughout, there was a generally subdued mood about the Gunners fans.
Yes, they sang as the crowd in England always do, but their singing was not only intermittent, but it lacked the general gusto so common here.
In the section of the stands, the Clock End, where we sat, the majority of the crowd appeared to be the discerning fans who intently watch the game with an analytical eye – hardly breaking into the chants started by the ultra fans behind the goals.
With a 60 000-plus capacity, the Emirates is the third-largest stadium in England, and perhaps therein lies the reason for my not having been taken.
I must say, however, that experiences of the other bigger stadiums, Wembley and Old Trafford, in the past had been remarkably wonderful.
It couldn’t have had anything to do with my not being an Arsenal fan, as I do not like Manchester United at all, but being at their stadium was pretty memorable. Whatever it was, it probably had to do with my Highbury experience.
Unlike the compact old Highbury – it could take a little under 38 500 to fill up – where the action on the pitch was so close by, you could actually hear the players shouting for the ball, at the Emirates, you are too far removed from the game.
Even when Lacazette scored, not once but twice, the excitement was nothing like that of the paltry Spurs fans who were mightily outnumbered at the London Stadium on Saturday against West Ham.
It could well be that the Arsenal faithful are still on some kind of protest against Arsene Wenger staying on as their manager despite his failings, for they were not in their element on Monday.
Whatever the reason though, they did nothing to make me want to return to the Emirates – their 2-0 win over West Brom notwithstanding.
* Matshelane Mamabolo is the Gauteng sports co-ordinator at Independent Media.