LONDON –Thousands of empty seats greeted Arsenal and West Bromwich Albion as they walked out at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday.
They didn’t fill up much during the 2-0 win for Arsenal which put them into third place following Alexis Sanchez’s brace on a strange night in North London.
[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]
Under pressure from home fans who want more than a top four finish each season, Arsene Wenger‘s side have drawn their last two games after throwing away leads to effectively end their Premier League title hopes.
Over 2,000 season tickets were sold back to the club ahead of the game and even though the club held up a sign in the press box saying that stated 59,568 “ticket sold” it would be hard to imagine more than 50,000 were inside the 60,432 capacity venue.
[ VIDEO: How long should Vardy be banned? ]
Asked after the game if Wenger had a message for the season ticket holders and other fans who decided to stay away, the French manager had this to say.
“To come and support the team,” Wenger said. “If you love football, if you go out there I think you see quality football. That’s what we try to give to our people. It is a special night as well, Thursday night. I don’t know if you are intelligent enough, nor am I, to dictate exactly why everybody who did not turn up tonight did not turn up.”
The big criticism is that this is the year, of all years, that Arsenal should be winning the title.
With Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool all below them in the table, you’d think the Gunners would be going for more than third or fourth. They’ve finished in either of those positions in each of the last 10 campaigns and the fans want more. The empty seats and subdued seats at the Emirates said as much.
Sanchez’s two first half strikes proved the difference and his early goal settled the home side in an eerily quiet Emirates Stadium.
“Of course ideally you always want to score early goals but the Premier League is the Premier League. It is difficult for everyone Look at the table,” Wenger said. “There are top teams who are behind us and because Leicester is in front at the moment everybody thinks we should have done it. Yes, okay, but you can say that for any other team because Leicester was bottom of the table last year. So all of the other 19 teams can say that.”
Wenger wasn’t even asked about Leicester or Tottenham and he dropped that line in there.
He knows Arsenal should be above them and they’ve missed a massive chance to win the title for the first time since 2004.
With the win over West Brom in a game they dominated from start to finish and only endured a few hairy moments from set pieces — Gareth McAuley hit the bar in the first half and Salomon Rondon fired over in the second — the Gunners moved up to third and now have a four point gap over Manchester United in fifth place.
Another top four finish — that would be 20-straight seasons in the top four for Arsenal under Wenger — seems likely with four games to go but the pressure is still on.
“You look at the table, you know for you that every point is important at the moment. We are under permanent pressure for every single game,” Wenger said.
With fans unhappy and staying away, Wenger must do more than guarantee a top four finish. The fans made that point loud and clear on Thursday.
The pressure on Wenger continues to grow.