Xenia Sports – London
Ainsley Maitland-Niles believes Arsenal have their 12th man back after supporters returned to the Emirates Stadium for the first time since March.
Two-thousand fans were present for the routine 4-1 Europa League win over Rapid Vienna as Government regulations allowed spectators at elite sport once again.
Not since a 1-0 victory over West Ham nine months ago had Arsenal’s 60,260-seater home been able to play host to supporters as last season ground to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Gunners were able to welcome back a small number for Thursday’s victory, which secured top spot in Group B for Mikel Arteta’s side, and Maitland-Niles is keen for more to be allowed in when the time comes.
“It was the icing on the cake,” he said.
“We said before the game to have fun, enjoy the game, the moments and have a good feel for it.
“We waited a long time but it is a great feeling to have them back, it was only two-thousand but we hope for more, it will come eventually.
“It is just great to have that sound back, that atmosphere, that is our 12th man so it was great to have the fans back.”
Maitland-Niles started the game in midfield and enjoyed a good evening as goals from Alexandre Lacazette, Pablo Mari, Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith Rowe saw Arsenal maintain a perfect start to their Europa League campaign.
The England international had not even made the bench for the Premier League defeat to Wolves four days earlier as Arteta changed his entire starting XI.
Having been convinced to stay at the Emirates Stadium following a fine end to last season, Maitland-Niles admits he needed a strong showing against Vienna as he looks to re-establish himself in the first team.
“Yes of course,” he replied when asked if he had a point to prove.
“Every game is a point to prove for everyone in the team but for me, of course, I had a point to prove, and hopefully the manager was pleased with my performance.
“It is about the self-belief, go out and show people what you are made of and prove it in every chance you get.
“Everyone has their moments, their ups and downs but I think on Thursday everybody showed their fight and that they are up for the game at the weekend and it is going to be tough for the manager.
“We need to find our feet and carry on being consistent with winning games, tonight we started that again and now we have to go on.”