A special European night at the Emirates Stadium

Arsenal are through to the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League. Those are words that haven’t been said since 2010, and words I have never said in my time supporting the Gunners. After several years of heartbreak and humiliation in the round of 16, to missing the competition for the past six seasons, I don’t care about fans of other teams mocking Arsenal fans for “overcelebrating” this achievement. 

Yes the Gunners have “only” advanced to the quarterfinals of the Champions League, and there is a long way to go if they are to win this competition, but Tuesday’s penalty shootout victory over FC Porto meant a lot more than just a ticket into the next round. 

Mikel Arteta’s vision to improve the Emirates Stadium’s atmosphere 

For most of the Emirates Stadiums’ lifespan, it has been a place where plenty of opponents have had great moments, a place where the atmosphere can be described as subdued and even a hostile environment for its own players at times. 

A lot of that can be attributed with the lack of success that Arsenal have had since the stadium opened its doors in 2006. 

Ever since Arteta took charge of Arsenal, one of his main missions has been to make Arsenal’s home into a positive environment for his players and a hostile one for their opponents. A little over four years into his reign, and his vision has come to fruition. 

From before kickoff to well after Arsenal goalkeper David Raya made the game-winning save in the penalty shootout, the stadium is rocking. 

The Emirates Stadium is now a place where Arsenal fans stick behind their team through thick and thin. A place where the fans make things uncomfortable for opponents. It has become a place where the relationship between the players, staff and fans has never been stronger. 

Captain fantastic

Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard has shown time and time again throughout his young career that he is a brilliant player. On the ball, his qualities are undeniable. The world of soccer knew how special of a talent he was when top clubs across Europe were battling for his signature when he signed for Real Madrid at the age of 16. 

Things didn’t work out for him at Madrid, but since his move to Arsenal, he has blossomed into the player he was destined to be. Apart from his quality, it’s his leadership that has impressed.

Before his move to Arsenal became permanent, he had a six-month loan at the club, and Arteta was desperate to have him become an Arsenal player after his loan was over. This had a lot to do with who Odegaard was as a person as well as a player. 

He was named Arsenal captain in the summer of 2022. He always carried himself with class and was led by example, but now you can see him leading vocally on the field. He also sets the tone with how he presses and tirelessly runs when he’s on the field. Everything that makes him brilliant as a player and person was on display against Porto Tuesday. 

David Raya’s big moment 

Raya’s move to Arsenal sparked controversy from the start. While I believe much of it was unnecessary, it is easy to see why that was the case. Raya was brought in when there was already a fan-favorite and very good goalkeeper at the club in Aaron Ramsdale. 

It was initially unclear whether he was coming in to start ahead of Ramsdale, or provide competition to the England goalkeeper. Early on in the season, it became clear that it was the former, and the number one spot at Arsenal belonged to Raya. 

He’s had some down moments, but over the last few months he has looked a lot more comfortable than he was initially. There is a section of the Arsenal fanbase and media that is waiting for Raya to make mistakes so that they can say that Ramsdale is superior. It was important for Raya to have a moment like that monster performance he had in the penalty shootout against Porto where he saved two penalties.  

Header Photo: Arsenal’s David Raya, Martin Odegaard, Ben White, Bukayo Saka and Declan Rice celebrate after winning the penalty shoot-out during the Champions League round of 16, second leg soccer match between Arsenal and Porto. (Zac Goodwin/PA via The Associated Press)

Write to Mohamed Warsame at mohamed.warsame@mnsu.edu

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