How Arsenal Brought Fans Together with Shakira and Free Beer to Transform the 'Highbury Library' into a Vibrant Place for Fulfilling Title Aspirations


Strike while the iron is hot is an adage intertwined with Arsenal’s philosophy of late.

The Gunners have exceeded expectation to the point in which silverware in this campaign is a demand, not a want.

The north London club have, as a result, used this success, this sense of optimism, to further engage their fanbase.

The club hierarchy has long been in search of those one per cents. Those minute elements that, when added up, equate to a significant advantage.

Mikel Arteta's side have been pursuing those one per cents that add up to a major advantage

Mikel Arteta’s side have been pursuing those one per cents that add up to a major advantage

Such is the improvement at the Emirates Stadium that silverware is now a demand, not a want

Such is the improvement at the Emirates Stadium that silverware is now a demand, not a want

It’s engrained in Arteta’s DNA, a winner at heart ever since he first played football on those San Sebastian beaches as a child.

That edge has been seen previously, such as when he had speakers at the London Colney training ground blasting out ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ before a trip to Liverpool in the 2021-22 campaign, or his end of season speech in May last year.

He kept on referring to the supporter base, including lines such as, ‘Together, we have reconnected the soul of this football club — and the soul of this football club is you guys.’

That engagement has continued, Arsenal keen on the impact of a supposed ‘12th man’. It’s something the club has spoken about internally with Arteta.

The Spaniard strode into his Brentford post-match press conference on March 9 with a grin which usually accompanies three points.

A Kai Havertz header had earned Arsenal a late 2-1 victory following an Aaron Ramsdale mishap. Yet, the Spaniard was already thinking of Porto at home, the Champions League last-16 second leg. They were on a 1-0 deficit after Galeno’s 94th-minute strike at the Estadio do Dragao.

‘This stadium is going to have the energy that you’ve never seen in your life,’ he said.

‘We haven’t done it for 14 years so bring your noise, bring your energy, bring your passion to that stadium and something beautiful is going to happen.’

The Gunners are bidding to end their 20-year wait for a Premier League title this campaign

The Gunners are bidding to end their 20-year wait for a Premier League title this campaign 

Arteta issued a rallying cry for the Emirates to bring noise and energy ahead of their Champions League second leg last 16 clash against Porto, with the Gunners 1-0 down

Arteta issued a rallying cry for the Emirates to bring noise and energy ahead of their Champions League second leg last 16 clash against Porto, with the Gunners 1-0 down

Those quotes were used over the tannoy in the minutes before kick-off, a ploy that has been used a number of times this season, including for the Tottenham north London derby on September 24.

Similarly, when Mail Sport asked Arteta about the importance of supporters ahead of the Champions League quarter-final first leg against Bayern Munich at the Emirates, he said: ‘I see the energy change in the players.

‘Their belief, their body language, actually how much they are looking forward to it, how protected they feel. It’s like a cushion there to tell them, and a wind blowing on their backs, saying, “Go for it, we are right behind you”.’

That was clipped and pushed out on Arsenal’s X account. Behind the scenes, the club were pleased Arteta had been asked about the supporters. Arsenal knew, as well as he, how crucial they could be with no Bayern fans present due to their ticket ban.

UEFA had banned all Bayern fans from attending the match after fireworks were thrown onto the pitch during away games at Copenhagen and Lazio in the competition this season.

To further ramp up a stadium once dubbed the ‘Highbury Library’, Gunners legend Ian Wright was mic’d up to deliver a speech through the intercom system.

‘Let’s not sleep, man! Let’s make noise the whole effing time!’ he bellowed.

And then the matchday programme covers were fully red so supporters could hold them up and create a red wall visual.

Ian Wright was mic'd up to deliver a speech through the intercom ahead of the Bayern Munich home clash

Ian Wright was mic’d up to deliver a speech through the intercom ahead of the Bayern Munich home clash 

Forging a bond with the '12th man' is something that the board have spoken to Arteta about

Forging a bond with the ’12th man’ is something that the board have spoken to Arteta about

Throughout the campaign there has also been the use of music. Declan Rice’s 96th-minute goal against Manchester United on September 3 resulted in Vanilla Ice’s ‘Ice, Ice, Baby’ blared out on the Emirates speakers, fans singing ‘Rice, Rice, Baby’ in celebration.

Kai Havertz’s brace in the 5-0 drubbing of Chelsea was met with Shakira’s ‘Waka Waka’ at the end, to the fans’ rendition of ‘£60million down the drain, Kai Havertz scores again’.

Not rocket science, but an added touch that makes supporters feel more involved alongside other elements.

The club send an email the day before home games with matchday information such as restaurant offers and incentives.

If it’s an early kick-off, supporters will occasionally be given a buy one get one free offer on beers to get fans into the ground early. Sometimes the bars will be kept open an hour after the game.

A season-ticket holder of 30 years said: ‘They are much better than they used to be at giving information out. You can see the club are making that effort.’

Aside from the matchdays itself, Arsenal have engaged with the local Islington community in a bid to create a unity that goes wider than football itself.

The club have an internal ‘Arsenal in the Community’ department focused on charity projects. This is different to many of their fellow clubs in the Premier League who have separate Foundations which focus on charity work, but often through the prism of football.

Every Kai Havertz goal is greeted with a rendition of Shakira's Waka Waka in his honour

Every Kai Havertz goal is greeted with a rendition of Shakira’s Waka Waka in his honour

The department’s initiatives include Stride On, which started in October, through teaming up with the UCLH Cancer Fund to deliver a walking football project specifically for men affected by prostate cancer.

Another is Shape Up, a 12-week weight-management programme designed for men. These programmes have been advertised on posters around the Emirates.

Holistically, the journey began in April 2022. The club were about to miss out on a Champions League spot to north London rivals Tottenham. The morale was dim.

But at the time, internally plans were being devised on eight pieces of artwork to adorn the outer stadium.

Arsenal had seen this as an ‘expression of its community values, history and pursuit of progress’ by ensuring the fans were deeply involved.

An insider said: ‘It was crucial we got the fans involved as much as possible. It is why we spoke to dozens of fan groups across the country and internationally to get their views.

‘The artwork is a real reflection of that. It’s our connection with the fanbase.’

It was revealed over a period of weeks, starting in January 2023 with the Gunners top of the table. It features 150 supporters’ groups flags, over 700 fans, both the Arsenal men and women sides, the academy and former stadium Highbury.

The efforts that Arsenal have made to unite their fanbase have been bearing fruit this season

The efforts that Arsenal have made to unite their fanbase have been bearing fruit this season

That was a significant point, and has led to the engagement fans feel now.

A few signs of late have not gone unnoticed, too.

This season, a handful of photographers who are fans of the club have been invited in on a couple of matchdays to take pictures, which have then been promoted on Arsenal’s X account of 22.3million followers. A small gesture that has made a moving impact on those involved.

Whatever is to transpire come May 19, the efforts Arsenal have made to unite their fanbase are bearing fruit.



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