Arsene Wenger wants his Arsenal players to generate a Europa League buzz to bring the masses flocking back to the Emirates Stadium.
A ticket to watch Wenger’s team in action was once the hottest in town, especially for this type of fixture against aristocratic opponents such as AC Milan.
Swathes of empty seats have been visible at recent games, however, and excuses about the cold and early kick-off times have failed to ring true.
‘For 22 years I have played in front of sold-out stadiums and I am grateful,’ said Wenger, whose team will be hoping to reach the quarter-finals of European football’s second competition on Thursday night.
‘If there are one or two games and the stadium is not completely full we have to look at ourselves and get the fans behind us again.
‘This club is massive and the support is huge. It is just down to our performances.’
Although official attendance figures — which signify the number of tickets sold — allude to capacity crowds, the Europa League has not fired the imagination of a generation of Arsenal fans bred on the Champions League.
Supporters have stayed away for many of the early rounds and thousands of empty seats were in evidence for domestic games against Manchester City and Watford.
But, with the title out of reach, the Europa League is the new priority, the final trophy Wenger can win this season and a possible route back into the Champions League.
‘Hopefully there won’t be so many empty seats,’ said Aaron Ramsey, scorer of Arsenal’s second goal in last week’s 2-0 win in Milan. ‘Hopefully our performances will encourage people to come back.
‘This a massive opportunity for us, something we must be prepared to give absolutely everything for to try and achieve. This game is very important for us and for our season.’
AC Milan are not be the force they were.
Like Arsenal, they sit sixth in their domestic league, and have injury problems which force manager Gennaro Gattuso to consider former Chelsea, Liverpool and Sunderland striker Fabio Borini as an emergency right back. ‘This is the opportunity we have and we have to take it,’ said Wenger, aware that none of the five English teams in the Champions League managed to win the home leg of their last-16 tie.
‘We did half the job in the first game but Europe gives you a psychological problem you have to master.
‘When you have won away from home, you have to finish the job at home.
‘But it is not easy because it always puts the team who is playing against you in the position of having nothing to lose. You have to respond mentally to the situation you face.’
Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal are back after injuries and Shkodran Mustafi has been declared fit after coming off against Watford.