Arsenal will be the first Premier League club to welcome fans in for a competitive fixture since March after confirming 2,000 spectators will be allowed in for their Europa League match against Rapid Vienna next Thursday.
The Gunners learned on Thursday that the Emirates Stadium is in tier two of the Government’s new regionalised approach to tackling the coronavirus pandemic, and will now be able to welcome fans in for the clash with the Austrian side.
A club statement read: ‘It’s been almost nine long months since we had fans in attendance at Emirates Stadium and our matches have simply not been the same without you.
‘While we appreciate that reduced capacity matches will be far from being ‘back to normal’, we can’t wait to welcome our fans back home for what will be a historic moment for the club.’
West Ham’s match, meanwhile against Manchester United on December 5 is set to be the first Premier League game with fans in attendance.
The league released its confirmed televised schedule for the rest of the year on Thursday afternoon, and the Hammers, whose London Stadium is in tier two, kick off against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side at 5.30pm on that date.
All the games which precede it – Aston Villa v Newcastle on December 4, Burnley v Everton at 12.30pm and Manchester City v Fulham on December 5 – are being played in tier three areas.
Brighton, Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool are the other teams in tier two areas hosting games that weekend.
Brighton boss Graham Potter, whose side host Southampton the weekend after next, said: ‘The biggest relationship at the football club is the one between the supporters and the players. So to have them around, I think it is amazing for everybody and great for football.’
Leeds boss Marcelo Bielsa, whose side are based in a tier three area where fans remain banned from venues, believes it is unfair to allow fans to return on a partial basis.
‘It shouldn’t be about the category, or the consequences of being in a category, it should be about trying to maintain the competition as equal as possible with things that are controllable,’ Bielsa said.
The Rugby Football Union, meanwhile, has announced it will be allowing 2,000 spectators into Twickenham for England’s final Autumn Nations Cup match on December 6.
The Government had staged a number of pilot events over the summer in the lead-up to what it hoped would be the wider return of spectators from October 1.
However, it had to scrap those plans after a sharp rise in coronavirus infections nationwide.
Under the tier system, up to 4,000 spectators are permitted to elite sports events in tier one. At present, the only areas in that tier are the Isle of Wight, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.