When Arsenal face Rapid Wien at the Emirates on Thursday, December 3rd, fans will be in attendance for the first time in 9 months. Per the new U.K. government policy, up to 2000 fans will be permitted to attend the Europa League match, making the Gunners the first Premier League team to see fans return to the stands. The plan is also to have fans at the December 13th home match against Burnley and going forward.
Emirates Stadium is located in a Tier 2 area under the recently released guidelines, as are the rest of the London clubs (Spurs, Chelsea, West Ham, Palace, and Fulham), Liverpool and Everton, Brighton, and Southampton. Aston Villa, Wolves, the Manchester clubs, Newcastle, Leeds, West Brom, Sheffield, Leicester, and Burnley are all in Tier 3 areas where there is still a wider spread of COVID-19 and as a result, still cannot have any fans. There are no Premier League clubs in Tier 1 areas, which would permit 4000 fans.
The tickets will be sold on a “first come, first served” basis to Gold and Premier members who made their initial payment and registered for the ballot back in September. The club explained that the short turnaround made to impossible to allocate tickets to the match via ballot, which had been the communicated plan for fans returning, and that the priority sale would be a one-off. The club will hold a ballot for the Burnley match and on.
Arsenal will require all fans attending matches to fill out an online health questionnaire and a trace and trace form. There will be two seats between all fans, including those from the same household unit, in the lower area, and one seat between fans in the club level. Further, all fans must agree to a special Code of Conduct and there are additional terms and conditions that attach to the ticket purchase.
Is bringing fans back into the stadiums a good idea? Who knows. The risk of transmission is relatively low for people who remain distanced in an outdoor area, but the crowd control and whether and how well social distancing and masking is enforced elsewhere in and around the stadium is an open question. There are so many logistics and so many unknowns. I hope it goes well and that supporters can begin to safely enjoy matches in person again.