<
>

Arsenal fans help explain the Emirates' sea of empty seats

Seeing thousands of empty seats at the Emirates has become commonplace in recent months as Arsenal's Premier League campaign has fizzled out in disappointing fashion. About one third of all seats in the 59,000-capacity stadium gaped empty for Sunday's 3-0 win over Stoke, and it was a similar story in the 3-0 loss to Manchester City following the team's dismal defeat in the Carabao Cup final.

Arsene Wenger has come up with a variety of explanations for the poor turnouts -- including Easter and the snowy weather ahead of the Man City game -- while others have viewed them as proof that fans are simply fed up with the team's poor results.

ESPN FC decided to get the fans' own views on why they've either been staying away or are still going to games, and what needs to happen for the stadium to fill up again. Here's what they said:

'The football is boring'

Tony Massenhove, a season ticket holder for 30 years, is among those who thinks Arsenal's current brand of football simply isn't good enough to justify making the journey in from Essex for every game.

"The simple fact is, the football is boring," he said. "It's not penetrating, there are no quick breaks. It's frustrating, it's monotonous, it's boring.

"I've got two season tickets on my own. And we've been to six games this season. One of those was the last Europa League game (against AC Milan). And it was monotonous to the point that I'm not sure I'll bother going this week, because it's mundane. All I can think of is, 'What a waste of a night.' That's the shame of it, there are so many other things I prefer to do now. I no longer look forward to football. When I go, I go out of duty, not because I want to. And that's a shame, because it's never been that way before."

Massenhove said he tries to give his seats to friends or family when he can, but that the club's system for transferring tickets doesn't always make it possible.

"If I decide on a Saturday morning that I can't go because my son is ill or whatever, I can no longer just call my friend and say do you want my ticket? You have to give the club three days' notice, and then go online and transfer your ticket to a friend," he said. "And if he's not a member, they have to get a membership. But the club don't care, do they? They've sold the season tickets, they've got the money."

'Other priorities'

Jim Haryott, another long-time season ticket holder who also runs the East Lower fan blog, said his reasons for missing games are a bit more varied. Haryott said he has only been to about half of this season's home games, but mainly because of other commitments that got in the way. But he added that the team's current form has made it a lot easier to prioritise those other commitments.

"The only game I've missed as a protest was the Man City one," Haryott said. "Because we went to the Carabao Cup final and it was terrible, and all the five people I sit with, we all thought, we can't be bothered. And we're crap. So we just didn't go. And that was definitely a result of the situation. But the rest of the games I've missed have all been circumstantial.

"I have kids and commitments, so your dedication to it changes as you get older. I'm sure there are people who have made conscious decisions not to go, but I think most fans are in a much more nuanced place, where maybe five years ago they would have made a real effort to rearrange other commitments but are less bothered now. Some of my friends haven't gone as much lately either for the same reasons, and when your friends aren't going, you're not as likely to go either. But if we were challenging for the title, I would try to move heaven and earth to make more of the games. But we're not, so it doesn't seem so important."

Protesting?

There has been a general feeling that stayaway fans are "voting with their feet" and are trying to send a message to the board that they won't return until there is change at the club.

However, that's usually not the case, according to Tony A., a regular on the Clock End podcast who also helps coordinate a Facebook group that lets ticket holders sell their seats on to other fans for face value. Tony didn't want his last name used, and said the club frowns on those fan efforts to coordinate ticket re-sales as they prefer that supporters use the official online exchange on the club website.

"I argue a lot with people who say they're protesting because they're still selling their tickets on. When people say that, I think they're talking nonsense," he said. "I understand if people say I want the stadium to look empty and then they don't sell their ticket on. But the majority that I know don't do that, they sell them on. And to me, that's not protesting anything, that's just you not wanting to go yourself."

So then why are there so many empty seats? According to Tony, it's a mix between some ticket holders "in the corporate world" who don't bother with re-sales and the fact that some supporters don't know how to find those tickets that are available outside of the official channels.

"I still speak to people who say 'There are so many empty seats but I still can't get a ticket.' If you know where to look, tickets are obviously very easy to get because the ground is empty. But if you only log on to Arsenal.com, it's still quite hard to get tickets unless you're a member," he said.

He added that some fans have also been put off giving their tickets to friends because of random checks by stadium stewards to see if the name on the ticket matches with the person using it.

"When your ground is empty, I think that's the wrong way to go," Tony said. "I understand trying to stop ticket touts, but when someone has paid face value off their friend, I think the club should leave them alone."

As for Tony himself, he's been a season ticket holder since 2011 and has only missed one home game since then, and he's not about to stop going anytime soon.

"When I started supporting Arsenal, I didn't say to myself, 'I'm only going to support them if they're successful.' For me, that's not what you do as a fan. If Arsenal were coming in 15th, I would still go," he said. "I would have assumed six months ago that most fans are like that, but apparently not."

'Where else would you go?'

There are plenty of other die-hard Arsenal fans who won't stop going no matter what. One of them is Malcolm Quick, who said he has been going to Arsenal matches for 60 years and missed a total of 10 home games in that span. So a run of bad results isn't about to keep him from the Emirates.

"No, but I've seen it all before," Quick said ahead of Sunday's game against Stoke. "I've seen the good and the bad. All right, sometimes you say to yourself that you won't go anymore. But you always turn up and go.

"If you've been going for years like I have, where else would you go? People will say: 'If so and so goes, I'll come back. If so and so doesn't go, I won't come back.' All you've got to do, if you don't want to come anymore, don't renew your ticket and don't come. It's as simple as that."