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The cries of "Mikel give us a wave," only for the Arsenal manager to applaud instead. The ironic jeers and cat calls when an opposing player called for a physio. That brief hush between Alexandre Lacazette letting fly and the ball fizzing into the net.

In those moments you could almost forget everything that had transpired over the past eight-and-a-half months, forget the mask and the distance between your fellow man or woman. 

Perhaps it helped that this game -- already unlikely to matter for much with Arsenal's Europa League knockout stage qualification from Group B already confirmed -- soon descended into dead rubber status. The hosts cruised to a 4-1 win over Rapid Vienna in front of 2,000 supporters, the first crowd a Premier League team had hosted since March. Without any drama or tension, there was time to revel in an experience that had been ripped from supporters in a matter of days.

Fans had rather vanished without anyone having time to prepare themselves for their departure. The last time this ground had hosted supporters it had been a sellout in a 1-0 win over West Ham, a match where there had been no sense of the abnormality to come. At full time on that day Pablo Mari, fresh from his home debut, had been faced with a scrum of reporters thrusting dictaphones in his face to preview a trip to his former club Manchester City that never came. Returning to such a scenario is, at best, unlikely to happen for some time yet.

Instead diagnoses from Olympiacos several days after their trip to north London began a snowballing process that saw a trip up north postponed and the diagnosis of Mikel Arteta with COVID-19 was ground zero for the sport in England. By and large the illness of Arsenal's manager was it for supporters for nine months, there was the odd trial at lower-league level and six Football League matches Wednesday night. Still something felt appropriate in Arteta's side being the ones to host a curtain raiser for Premier League clubs.

Not every club will be able to welcome back 2,000, only those in Tier Two cities such as Liverpool and London. Aston Villa, Manchester United and Manchester City are among those who must continue to wait. If they watched Thursday's proceedings they could be sure it would be worth it.

The Clock End was empty, the top tiers of this ground unused and every supporter had two clear seats on every side of them and yet this immediately felt so much more natural than the behind-closed-doors curios.

This was not football as you remembered but it was an effective approximation. Mascot Gunnersaurus made a far smoother return than Hollywood has taught us the resurrection of dinosaurs has any right to be.

The stadium pulsed with life and music ahead of kick-off, an expertly chosen mixtape of Mase's Welcome Back and The Boys Are Back In Town sliding seamlessly into the wonderful choir of a few thousand supporters, who returned with wit aplenty. "Your support is f---ing shit" was the message to the empty corner of the stadium that would usually house visiting Rapid Vienna supporters. 

Every player was treated to a chant of their own: Rob Holding, it transpires, is still better than Fabio Cannavarro in the eyes of his fans, hundreds were on their feet as the cry went up to "stand up if you love Saka".

From a pure experience perspective this made for a spectacle vastly improved on what had preceded it but there was more importance to this for Arteta and his players. The manager's early success had come from restoring the severed bond between supporters and their club; some questioned whether those ties would remain after recent troubles in the Premier League prompted vocal debate over whether Arsenal's approach was working.

It worked Thursday night and the fans responded with more propulsive force for their players. Arteta has been at pains to point out how much harder his task has been without supporters to give his players momentum. Against a side like Rapid Vienna, Arsenal would usually have the quality to win. In front of their fans there was greater verve and energy, enough to wrap this game up by half-time.

Lacazette's thunderous strike from over 25 yards out was the perfect way to begin this new era of football. The moment the ball left his boot he was sprinting over to the East Stand to celebrate with supporters, so jubilant were the scenes between Arsenal fans and their No. 9 that referee Radu Petrescu had to remind the Gunners that there was still a game to be played.

It was soon won when Mari scored his first Arsenal goal on his return from a six-month ankle injury layoff. To add to the delight of the home supporters two of their academy's finest prospects -- Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith Rowe -- found the net either side of Kohya Kitagawa's consolation for Vienna. The only criticism one could level at the Emirates faithful was that they did not respond to it with a burst of Ultravox's classic 1980s hit: "This means nothing to me."

Crucially this was not the sometimes stultifying football that Arsenal have served up this season. Their passing was precise and purposeful, they no longer needed several minutes to advance into the final third. By all means caveat that with the fact this was a much-changed Rapid side who clearly have their focus on next week's decider for second place with Molde, but it was hard to shake the sense that this Arsenal team were giving a better show now that they had an audience to watch them.

The return was not without teething problems. Midway through the first half some supporters in the ground noted that stewards had been assertive in reminding fans to stay in their allotted seat and to not encroach into the space of those around them. That in itself is hardly something that was unfamiliar in pre-COVID grounds though the sheer weight of numbers stewarding fans was notable.

Behind closed doors fixtures have necessitated a stewarding staff of 50, the addition of 2,000 fans required a further 300 stewards, not far short of one member of staff for every six or so supporters.

Little wonder then that Arsenal and other Premier League clubs are running these games at a loss as they endeavor to bring much of the pageantry of a full scale fixture to one-thirtieth of its usual audience. A week ago the government announced London was in Tier Two and that fans could return- - though plans for numerous capacity options were in place soon after lockdown began it has still been a titanic effort to get the ground ready in a week.

This is of course just phase one and there is no certainty when the next steps will be taken. That remains out of clubs' hands. All they can do in the meantime is put on a show. Arsenal certainly did that.