Laboured Arsenal edge Stoke as apathy in the stands continues

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The apathetic home support let out boos of frustration at half time with Arsenal having one eye on their Europa League tie

Arsene Wenger’s voice returned just in time for Arsenal’s clash with Stoke, in what felt like a dead rubber exhibition encounter at times.

The Frenchman couldn’t fulfil his usual pre-match press conference and matchday programme duties due to falling ill earlier this week, with assistant manager Steve Bould using the opportunity to back the Frenchman by claiming he is “hungrier than ever” to win.

Arsenal’s first half performance was laboured, dull and witnessed by a frustrated home support in a once again under capacity crowd. The excuses made for the empty seats in recent weeks have included the bad weather and public transport issues, but while it may have been Easter Sunday there can be no doubt that the home supporters are beginning to grow weary of the gradual decline that has gripped the Emirates Stadium over the past two seasons.

The Gunners certainly put in the kind of display to suggest they have one eye on Thursday’s Europa League quarter final against CSKA Moscow but a clinical second half performance, including two penalties, guided Arsenal to three points which may end up having little relevance to their hopes of finishing in the top four come May.

Indeed, Wenger and Bould have already mentioned that Champions League qualification via the league remains extremely unlikely, meaning the two legged affair against CSKA takes even more priority next week.

Apathy has become the word of the season among the red side of north London. Empty seats, banners and rants on social media have become commonplace over the past few months and the sterile atmosphere is a sign of the times.

Asked about the atmosphere after the game, Aaron Ramsey insisted that it didn’t affect the players despite audible boos ringing out at half-time.

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"It was alright. We don't let that affect us," he said. "They were behind us, they frustrated in first half, as were we. They stuck with us."

Those boos of frustration and disappointed murmurs are likely to continue even if Arsenal progress in the Europa League. They need to keep pace with the teams around them but the fact that Wenger has already resigned his side to not being able to qualify for the Champions League through a top four finish makes the domestic end to the season an almost thankless task.

"They will be back on Thursday, don't worry," said Wenger in response to a question about the many empty seats on show. "It's explainable by the fact that it's Easter. It's just down to the fact that we don't fight for the Championship."

Thursday's Europa League tie will test Wenger's theory as to why the fans have kept away from the home Premier League games in recent weeks, but it seems to show no sign of improvement even when Arsenal win as shown in the past two games.

Wenger’s own future will be called into question when the season ends and it’s likely that the decision on where he’ll be next season will be based on if he can take his team to Lyon and win the Europa League in May.

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