Arsène Wenger expects a Uefa inquiry into the chaotic scenes that forced a one-hour delay to the kick-off of Arsenal’s Europa League match against Cologne on Thursday night. Overcrowding around the Emirates Stadium, with an estimated 20,000 visiting fans in London far outnumbering the official allocation of 3,000 tickets, created a complex and dangerous environment as the match approached.
“Only they know the facts to analyse what happened. They should certainly make an inquiry to find out what happened, for sure,” said Wenger afterwards. “There were certainly more people here than had tickets. We left that to the police. I don’t know how they managed to infiltrate our fans. Did they go through membership or the internet? I don’t know but they did it very well.
“When I saw the pictures I thought we cannot take the gamble to play the game. At some stage I thought we will not play because I can’t see the police taking any risks. We live in society of 100% security. Our supporters dealt with the situation well.”
Wenger’s counterpart from Cologne refused point blank to make any meaningful remarks about it. “No comment about the fans,” offered Peter Stöger. “I am the coach and my job is the team and not the fans.” A spokesman for the German club added: “We will inform ourselves and officially talk about that in future days.”
In the couple of hours leading up to the original scheduled kick-off time of 8.05pm it was obvious there was a challenging situation to manage outside the stadium. Fans had been congregating in Islington since mid-afternoon.
The Metropolitan Police closed the main bridges that form major access points to the stadium concourse around two hours before kick-off, and with thousands of Cologne supporters filling the bridges and causing serious congestion it became difficult for the fans with tickets to get anywhere near the turnstiles. There were four arrests on the night and the police called in extra resources. The clubs and authorities decided that the “safest option” was to play the game rather than attempt to disperse the crowd. The next complication was segregation and it seemed as if the decision was made to attempt to direct all the visiting fans to the Clock End of the ground. This led to Arsenal fans with tickets in that area having to move without much clear direction as to where they should head.
Apart from crowd ticketing and safety issues, there may also be a fine because of the flares the away fans lit during the game. In the days leading up to the match the two clubs had held discussions about the probability of an excess of away fans coming to London. “We were aware, there were lots of conversations in advance to try to avoid the situation of fans coming without tickets,” an Arsenal spokesman explained. Those conversations were not enough, though, to prevent the difficulties on the night. “The safest option is to play the game. We plough on and have a football match.”
It was less than ideal preparation for the players. “We waited patiently in our dressing room,” said Wenger. “What was difficult is we had all sorts of plans to think about. Do we play tomorrow? What time? Do we play next week? But they have the Bundesliga and we have the League Cup. Do we move to Tuesday and play Thursday? There were all kind of speculation.”
Once the game started, Arsenal toiled and went behind, only to recover to win 3-1 on the night.