A surreal atmosphere greeted Arsenal’s players at the Emirates Stadium, which felt like an away ground. (Reuters: John Sibley)
Supporters of German minnows FC Koln have caused organisational chaos and a long delay to proceedings in their highly-anticipated Europa League match against London giants Arsenal.
Set an away-end allocation of just under 3,000 seats, a reported 20,000 fans from Cologne arrived in London in their boisterous droves for the second-tier European competition — FC Koln’s first continental clash in 25 years.
The match was due to kick off at 7:05pm local time (5:05am Friday AEST), but fears over crowd safety 45 minutes before kick-off saw UEFA and Arsenal postpone the match by an hour.
Thankfully the match — which finished 3-1 in Arsenal’s favour — featured two very peachy goals that were worth the wait. But the pre-match crowd trouble was clearly a worry for officials.
“The match between Arsenal and Koln will be delayed for a minimum of one hour in the interests of crowd safety,” European football’s governing body, the competition organisers, said.
Police hold off FC Koln fans on the main bridge entering the Emirates Stadium’s precinct. (Reuters: David Klein)
London Metropolitan Police said in a statement that extra officers had been sent to the Emirates Stadium in north London, after fights broke out.
“Officers are dealing with disorder at the Emirates Stadium where fans have gathered for the Arsenal vs FC Koln match,” it said.
“A policing plan is in place for the game. Additional officers have been deployed.”
EmanDaGoon tweets FC Koln have arrived & theyve brought 70% of any atmosphere the emirates will have tonight
Police made four arrests for public order offences.
Outside the ground, organisational chaos ensued, with thousands of Koln fans trying to get in and authorities forced to close the turnstiles.
Inside, a handful of spectators and those with media access looked on to a surreal, empty stadium with less than an hour to go before the original scheduled kick-off time.
The sheer number of German away supporters were preventing Arsenal fans from entering the stadium, though gradually those with tickets were let through after the delayed kick-off was announced.
But upon entering the ground, Arsenal fans were in for a shock — many FC Koln fans had managed to secure tickets in the home end, and some were looking to jump the barricade to join in the fun with their mates in the away section.
FC Koln fans vault a barriacade separating home and away supporters before the delayed kick-off. (Reuters: David Klein)
By the time kick-off finally came around, it was clear this was no ordinary attendance at Arsenal’s ground. The usually modest corner allotted to away fans was teeming with people, and swathes of sections usually reserved for home supporters had a very German flavour.
Whistles even rang out as Arsenal got the game underway.
WestStandTone tweets It will kick off all over this stadium tonight because there are away fans all over the home areas. Shambles.
And then, seemingly typical of Arsenal’s fortunes of late, things got worse.
Gunners goalkeeper David Ospina rushed out to clear the ball from danger, only to see it fall to a FC Koln midfielder, who fed it to forward Jhon Cordoba.
On the pivot, the Colombian spun on the spot and hit a swerving, top-spin finish that sailed over the backpeddling Ospina and into an empty net, prompting wild celebrations from FC Koln fans, some of whom were lighting up flares.
A goal down in front of a depleted home base and vociferous away support, Arsenal struggled with an out-manned midfield for the rest of the half.
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger brought on Sead Kolasinac as Arsenal switched to a traditional back four, and the move paid off in spades as the left-back got on the end of a looping loose ball to hammer home an excellent volleyed equaliser.
On the 65th minute, Arsenal were ahead, and all thanks to its brilliant but wantaway Chilean sensation, Alexis Sanchez.
Sanchez collected the ball in the left pocket, before ghosting past his man and bamboozling defenders along the edge of the box before curling in a stunning finish from distance.
Arsenal wrapped up the 3-1 win as Hector Bellerin pounced on a loose ball in the box, but the FC Koln fans still sang long after the full-time, soaking up a chaotic but long-awaited return to European competition.
Wenger, however, was not impressed with the pre-match chaos.
“It’s the first time Cologne play in Europe for 25 years, and they made a mess of it. It’s a shame,” he said in his post-match interview.
In other Europa League results, Arsenal’s fellow Premier League side Everton were belted 3-0 away to Serie A side Atalanta, while AC Milan rolled back the years with an excellent 5-1 drubbing of Austria Vienna.
Olympic Lyonnais drew 1-1 with Apollon Limassol, while Portugal’s Braga shocked Bundesliga outfit Hoffenheim 2-1.