Arsenal fans treated to comfortable Europa League victory

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Arsenal's Eddie Nketiah scores his side's third goal of the game during the UEFA Europa League Group B match at The Emirates Stadium, London.
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Mark Mann-Bryans, PA

Arsenal supporters returned to the Emirates Stadium on Thursday night and watched their side ease to a Europa League victory over Rapid Vienna.

Already assured of qualification to the knockout stages, a comfortable 4-1 win inspired by a fine Alexandre Lacazette opener means the Gunners top Group B.

But the result played second fiddle to the return of fans to top-flight football, as 2,000 spectators were spaced out – the first supporters to watch a game here in nine months.

Lacazette opened the scoring with a long-range strike before Pablo Mari, returning to the team for the first time since suffering an ankle injury in June, headed in a second, with academy graduates Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith Rowe adding the gloss either side of Kohya Kitagawa’s consolation.

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta changed his entire starting XI from the weekend defeat to Wolves, but they proved too strong for the visitors.

This was the first time fans have been able to watch a Premier League side in action since the first coronavirus lockdown saw last season grind to a halt in March.

Spectators returned to lower-league venues a day earlier, but this was a big moment for Arsenal and their fanbase.

A first-come-first-served ticketing system saw the website crash on Saturday morning, but a lucky 2,000 were able to rejoice at the return.

A kit clash meant Arsenal could not play in their traditional red, so their blue away kit was worn to welcome home the select bunch.

Lacazette’s 30-yard strike got the ball rolling after just 10 minutes and Mari’s first Arsenal goal doubled the lead.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03: Ercan Kara of Rapid Wien battles for possession with Calum Chambers of Arsenal during the UEFA Europa League Group B stage match between Arsenal FC and Rapid Wien at Emirates Stadium on December 03, 2020 in London, England. A limited number of fans are welcomed back to stadiums to watch elite football across England. This was following easing of restrictions on spectators in tiers one and two areas only. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

By the time Nketiah nodded in a third there was a party atmosphere as supporters began to go through their repertoire of songs.

Vienna briefly threatened an unlikely comeback as Kitagawa turned home after two brave blocks from Sead Kolasinac had initially kept the visitors at bay.

The three-goal cushion was restored as Smith Rowe swept in to finish a fine, flowing move just three minutes after replacing Lacazette.

Arteta used the last 20 minutes to welcome Calum Chambers back into the first-team fold, the defender having been sidelined by a serious knee injury almost a year earlier.

Dani Ceballos came close to adding a fifth with a fine free-kick. while fellow substitute Willian dragged wide a strike from distance.

The result was already in the bag by that point, but no fans were heading home early as they rose to applaud the Arsenal players off the field, Arteta also crossing the pitch to reciprocate.

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