When Thierry Henry scored that famous hat-trick against Wigan on the final day of the 2005-2006 Premier League season, Arsenal fans knew leaving Highbury was going to be tough. The 38,000-seat stadium was home to the Gunners for over ninety years, created thousands of memories and was graced by players such as Ian Wright, Liam Brady, Dennis Bergkamp and many, many more heroes. That last day on May 7th 2006 was extremely emotional for every fan, player, and staff member involved with the club. But it was time for a change. Just down the road to the 60,432 seats of Emirates Stadium.
When you walk across the Ken Friar bridge towards the Emirates Stadium, you see images of legends, such as Charlie George, Cesc Fabregas, Thierry Henry, and Tony Adams, flooding back the bone-tingling moments of great Arsenal sides.
As you can guess by now, I am an Arsenal fan. But this will not lead to a biased review, as I am still critical of the Emirates experience. One cannot hate the magnificent monument, as it is simply one of the best landmarks in London, which is admired by those who are lucky enough to catch a glimpse.
Since moving to the Emirates, Arsenal have had recognisable success. Since the 2005 F.A Cup Final, where Patrick Vieira slotted home a penalty in front of thousands of Manchester United fans, the Gunners have endured eight, long hard years. In recent times, the club has produced some world class talent, but sold them on to clubs who have the financial backing. However, as the 2013 Premier League reaches Christmas, it’s been a different season for Arsenal. The signing of German superstar Mesut Ozil and re-signing of invincible Mathieu Flamini has made a huge difference to the 2013-2014 Arsenal team.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
As soon as you pass through the electronically modified turnstiles, you are greeted by a canteen. The service at the counter however, is pretty poor and results in huge queues. Going for a halftime beverage or snack can result in you missing up to fifteen minutes of the second half. It's just not worth it.
The food on option is completely different to any other Premier League football ground. The Emirates is renowned for its "high quality" food and to be honest I can't disagree. It's just the absurd prices which ruins the food on offer and has driven regular fans to not eat inside the ground.
For a hot dog or margherita pizza slice it's £3.50. For the sweet tooth, it will cost you £3 for a large bag of malteasers, which is annoying, as you can't just go and get a chocolate bar for a decent price.
The "signature" dish, are the nachos piled high with sour cream and other Mexican toppings. It's certainly delicious, but at an astronomical price. As far as beverages, a pint is £3.50 and I advise you get it from a stall inside the ground, rather than from the canteen, as it saves a lot of time!
A feature which I love about Arsenal, is that for the last away game before Christmas, the Arsenal fans receive a £10 food voucher to spend at any home game they wish. I think this is the only team in the Premier League to do this, which is a nice touch.
Highbury was a tightly packed stadium, where most fans were passionate and regulars to watch the Gunners. Since the move to the Emirates, an increase in tourists wanting to experience sexy Premier League football, has lead to a flat atmosphere. A prime example of this during my most recent visit, is when two people next to us decided to leave the game half an hour early. I mean a full thirty minutes! And the reason was because people were standing up too much. It really sums up the Emirates. I mean yeah, the seats are wide and comfy, but really does that mean that you have to sit in it all game? It's what football is. Standing up adds to the atmosphere. But when people are constantly nattering on at you, for getting out of your seat when the team attacks, it's just wrong.
Arsenal are trying to tackle this problem, as they've introduced the Young Gun enclosure, which allows keen, Arsenal mad teenagers into one section of the ground for only £10. Additionally, in a survey, 90% of Arsenal fans wanted a 'standing' only area, which would definitely add to the atmosphere, as it can compare to days on the terrace, where standing up was a requirement.
Now that my rant is done, let's talk about the positives. Since the arrival of Mesut Ozil and the upturn of Arsenal's results, there's a vibe around the place. For the first time in years, it's an enjoyable place to be. Old fashioned Highbury chants such as the call and response between the North Bank and The Clock End are being sung. The atmosphere has a certain buzz to it and the team seems to be benefiting from the increase in noise.
As a fan, seeing Olivier Giroud score is truly amazing. This is because the "Na, na, na, na, na, na, na GIROUD" song, to the tune of "Hey Jude," is sung by all 57,000 home supporters, which will send shivers up your spine, as it is just amazing to be a part of.
The Emirates is always at its best when Tottenham Hotspur visit, to play in the North London derby. If it's your first visit to the Emirates, then I advise you don't start off with this fixture. Both sets of fans are really hateful for each other, but this really adds to the atmosphere. If every game's atmosphere was as good as this, then it would be a six star venue. It's just that good. When Theo Walcott scored his second goal in the 5-2 win over Spurs (for the first time) the stadium erupted. Not as much as this though...
Walking to the Emirates is something I've done for many years, and it makes me happy. For many reasons. On the way to the ground, you can see the only remaining stand of Highbury. Although the whole stadium has been renovated into flats, looking at what was a historical venue is memorable for any fan.
Rather than eating at the ground, have a pre match meal. Burger vans, curry stalls, sweet stalls, fish 'n chip shops, and a hog roast stand all line the streets that you walk on the way to the Emirates. It's a no brainer. The food is delicious and at cheap prices.
As for drinking, there are renowned nearby pubs such as the Drayton Arms and the Seven Sisters, which is part of the pre match atmosphere. All have some piece of unique Arsenal memorabilia, like a signed shirt, which adds to the experience. Whilst on this walk, you also pass many unofficial Arsenal stands, selling player shirts, signed pictures of present and former players, scarves and retro programmes from years ago. Personally, I prefer these shops, as the prices are fairly cheap, even whilst the quality is there.
If wanting to purchase official Arsenal memorabilia, there is a selection of three official club shops. Just outside Finsbury Park train station is the first of the club shops and this is the smallest one. Before the steps walking up to the Ken Friar Bridge is the second shop, which is fairly large, however can be very cramped and busy on a game day. The main shop is located just outside the ground and is gigantic. The store has everything Arsenal and is dealt with smoothly on a game day to ensure that queues don't fill up.
In recent seasons, Arsenal fans have suffered. Seeing superstars like Robin Van Persie, Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Adebayor all betray the club after years of perseverance from the Arsenal staff, has really hurt everyone associated with the club. The gunners were English football's top dog in the late 90's and early 2000's, however since 2005, have dropped down to just a top 4 Premier League side. Arsenal just aren't as dominant as they used to be and as a fan, it's been painful. This was summed up by the humiliating Capital One Cup defeat at Valley Parade in 2012 against Bradford.
Arsenal fans are unfairly criticised by other fans for making the Emirates sound so quiet. Here we go again, but I'm just going to say it. At Highbury, fans who turned up were regular visitors, who wanted to spur the team onto victory. Those fans still exist and are the reason for what is a fairly quiet atmosphere at the Emirates. However, as the club climbs the standings, the atmosphere created by the fans has been significantly better as there is anticipation and excitement at the hope of a trophy.
Ticket prices have really increased since moving to the Emirates, yet Arsenal fans haven't made a public outcry and have simply accepted the changes. Many fans want a change, but accept that a change is unlikely.
Arsenal fans in general, are extremely supportive of the team. The away following is arguably the noisiest in the Premier League, as every allocated seat is filled and full of 'dedicated' fans. Throughout the game, witty songs about players are belted out.
When visiting the Emirates, the Arsenal fans are welcoming (unless a rival) and aren't notoriously vicious. It's rare for home fans to be arrested and walking amongst them is as safe as can be expected.
As North London is a very busy part of England's capital, by far the most common mode of transport is by train. And this is all catered for. Stations within walking distance include Finsbury Park on the Piccadilly Line and Highbury & Islington on the Victoria Line. However, if you want to get the most out of your Emirates experience, getting off at Arsenal tube station is highly recommended. The underground is one of a kind, as it's the only tube station named directly after an English football club. Getting lost is very hard, as thousands of home fans flood to the game, so if stuck, just follow them.
If wanting to travel by car I have some advice. Don't. Parking is extremely hard and travelling by car in London is just too difficult and not worth it. It's too time consuming and will only cause you stress!
Travelling by bus is fine, but like on the tube, expect many football fans packed on it. If wanting to visit from other parts of the country, coach services are available, however most of them will take you to London King's Cross station, leaving you to get a tube to the ground via the Piccadilly Line. Coaches directly to the ground are rare as London is a nightmare; however most of the direct services are for away fans.
Inside the stadium there are many toilets and even though queues are long, they move along swiftly, meaning you don't have to wait long.
Tickets at Arsenal are a hot topic, as fans are frustrated at the extortionate prices. For a Grade A game, adult ticket prices can be as high as £123.50 - and that's not even in hospitality suites. The lowest price for an adult at a Grade A game is £62. There's no denying that the 'big' games are when the Emirates is at its best. But is it worth all that money? Unless you are a member or season ticket holder, than no. So why did I give this section full marks?
The gunners have some world class, entertaining talent at every position, which are definitely worth a watch. Grade B games provide a competitive, exciting match-up and these are definitely worth watching live. Prices are as cheap as £35.50 for an adult, £15.50 for a senior citizen, and £10 for a child. These are affordable prices and for the quality and experience of a Premier League match, is a superb return on investment.
The Premier League gets better every year and as Arsenal are one of the top teams, visiting the Emirates is worth every penny and it will provide an unforgettable experience.
There are so many extras that I've already mentioned, like the world class talent, magnificent structure of the stadium, numerous club shops and retro surroundings.
Firstly, the Arsenal programme wins awards most years, as the content looks in depth at many aspects, such as the community and the visiting side. It's £3 and in each issue, you receive stickers of past and present players which you can stick into a collector's book. Also, every month the Arsenal Magazine is released, which takes an in depth look into everything about the gunners and is £3.50.
Another extra is the huge images of various Arsenal legends huddling together on the outside of the stadium. It really shows the history of the club and is a remarkable quality of the stadium. When you enter the stadium, all the walls are filled with facts and images of key events in the club's history, which is really interesting to read as a fan.
When the club reached its 125th anniversary, it unveiled three statues of club legends Thierry Henry, Tony Adams, and Herbert Chapman. All of these capture a unique image of the player/manager, especially Thierry Henry's celebration against Spurs in 2002, and Tony Adams against Everton in 1998. All of these statues are crowded round with people admiring them and waiting to get a picture with one is really worth it.
Finally, Arsenal are one of a very few clubs who offer a 'legends' tour, where you have the opportunity to be guided around the Emirates by either John Radford, Lee Dixon, Charlie George, Kenny Samsom, or Perry Groves. This costs £35 for an adult and £18 for a child, which is well worth the money, as you can ask a variety of unique questions and get answers. The tour not only takes you round the stadium, but also to the Arsenal museum, which features player shirts and boots from memorable games.
Overall, visiting the Emirates is a must do. Yes the prices may be high and the atmosphere lacks at times, but the whole experience and day out is just one you have to experience. The quality of football is some of the best in Europe and just something you can't miss out on!
The Emirates is huge.
As you make your way across the Ken Friar Bridge, passing the pictures of Cesc Fabregas, Patrick Vieira and Charlie George, you come to a set of stairs that lead down to the stadium. You are immediately confronted with the amazing sight of the front of the stadium. There is a giant Arsenal symbol that looks out over the bridge. To each side of the symbol the backs of greats such as Parlour, Henry, Brady and Bastin standing in a line provide an impressive, classy title.
Immediately you know you are in for a treat in North London today.
As an Arsenal fan you are filled with pride at this stadium whose exterior and interior is arguably one of the best in England. As a neutral or even a hater of the Gunners, one cannot help feel respect and admiration over this magnificent monument. The Emirates, which has a capacity of 60,361, is one of the biggest grounds in England, which is epitomized as the line for the nearby toilets stretch far out the door.
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