It’s been a cold six seasons for Arsenal, but now it’s raining goals as Mikel Arteta’s Gunners return to the Champions League

It’s 5pm at The Gunners and already, the low noise is ringing. It’s quiet now as the rain pelts the concrete past the glass, but give it a few hours and you won’t be able to move into this famous old pub for Arsenal shirts, songs and stories.

For now, early starters sit back and chew the fat.

How could Mikel Arteta do that to Aaron Ramsdale? At least our hearts don’t skip a beat when David Raya touches the ball. Arsenal need to sign Ivan Toni in January and we can’t rely on Eddie Ngedia. What can Guy Howard do that Emily Smith-Rowe can’t? What position does Howards play? We knew what we were going to get when we signed Declan Rice. If Bugayo Saga was injured, why didn’t Arteta rest him at the end of last season once the Premier League was done and dusted?

Hot tags fly back and forth, but all with a buzz of excitement. Nothing can dampen the excitement on a night like this, not even the incessant rain that accompanies Arsenal fans on their epic pilgrimage to the Emirates Stadium. They had waited a long time for a night like this.

Six seasons actually. It’s been six seasons since Arsenal last entered the Champions League. Six seasons from almost two decades of uninterrupted run in Europe’s elite competition.

Bugayo Saka scored Arsenal’s first goal as the club returned to the Champions League
The Gunners beat Dutch opponents PSV 4-0 in their Group B opener.
Arsenal supporters had traveled to the group stage match at the Emirates with anticipation

’It was tough,’ says lifelong supporter Valentine Sokoli. But you don’t have a God-given right to play the tournament every year. This is great. Glad to be back, looks good. I can’t wait, to feel that atmosphere again, to hear the anthem. That’s right. Where are we?’

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Sokoli is now 40 years old. He has supported Arsenal since the age of six, when he first watched them play against Liverpool at Anfield in 1989 on his family’s black-and-white television in Albania. When he was 14, he left his family in England to watch Newcastle take on Arsenal at Highbury in 1998. He has been in this country since then.

’If you offered me a million pounds or the experience I did back in the day, I’d tell you to keep your money,’ he says.

His 12-year-old son, Leo, was having none of it. 'No! It’s a million pounds! Buy all the Arsenal tickets you want!’

He couldn’t have looked at the price of Arsenal tickets these days.

It’s an exaggeration, but on nights like this, in places like this, you understand the feeling.

The Gunners sits just a few minutes’ walk from Old Highbury. Old Arsenal shirts hang on the walls, while others line the bottom of the bar, displaying the names of club legends in numerical order. Rocastle 7, Lundberg 8, Eduardo 9, Merson 10, George 11.

Its patrons have seen it all, and surrounded by their peers, they re-share memories. The Arsene Wenger years, the George Graham years – 'Who’s that,’ asks 12-year-old Leo.

After six years of Champions League competition, Arsenal fans have been eagerly awaiting
The club is reaping the benefits of having a long-term plan under manager Mikel Arteta
As a result, Arsenal had a perfect return to Europe’s elite club competition at the Emirates

They have come from all over to see it. A man in an Emily Smith-Rowe shirt came from Sweden to watch the game. Martin Lynch lives in Nottingham and has supported Arsenal all his life but has never been able to see them play – until last night.

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’I’m buzzing,’ he says. I can’t wait to walk in to see the stadium, the lights, the flags. I can’t wait.’

A man gathers through the growing crowd to sell pin badges, selling two for £6. A man squeezes in at the next table and says he used to play football but is now a heart surgeon. „Arsenal fans have wanted one of those for years,” he says.

They needed it at the end of Wenger’s reign. They needed it under Unai Emery when the club missed out on a return to the Champions League by finishing in the top four, losing to Chelsea in the Europa League final.

They needed it when they saw Tottenham reach the Champions League final. In Arteta’s early days, he trusted the process and was kicked out of Europe by Emery.

Finally, they ride. It took time under Arteta, but now we are reaping the rewards of patience and planning. Now, six years later, they are back.

The bustle around the sea of ​​fans past Arsenal station, police horses and burger vans and show stands. It follows them through the turnstiles and it follows them to their seats.

Champions League music is taking place at the Arsenal gym this week. The soldiers prepared themselves. Tony Britton’s score played over the PA system at the Emirates, even before the players came out, and they couldn’t wait any longer.

They played it up in the second half and again at full-time as the players left. Fans have yearned for six seasons to hear it within these walls.

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When they did, the roar that followed told you the wait was worth it, no matter how painful.

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