Other Names: Ashburton Grove
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The Emirates Stadium is much heralded as one of the more modern stadiums in the Premier League at the moment, if not in the World. Obviously, it hosts Arsenal Football Club who over the past 10 years have undergone wholescale club changes. Emery is slowly but surely implementing his ideas upon his squad to make them a title-challenging side again, but it was perhaps the move to the Emirates Stadium in 2008 that was supposed to propel Arsenal as a contender for the Premier League and European medals.
The Emirates is perhaps one of the slickest stadiums worldwide, but the story behind its construction is anything but. As a matter of fact, the club actually began discussing stadium development plans as early as 1997, with the original vision being to expand upon the 38,000 capacity Highbury Stadium. This was instantly rebuffed by local residents and communities who rejected the proposal because houses would have to be demolished in order for Highbury to be extended.
With that plan out the window, the Gunners submitted a £100m bid for Wembley in 1997 which was instantly rejected by the FA and the UK Government because Wembley was central to the English bid for the World Cup in 2006. Even the FIFA president Joao Havelange emphasised that point, condemning Arsenal to plan C. In 1999, they reportedly opened up talks for some derelict land behind King’s Cross St Pancras in 1999 which would suitably accommodate new stadium. The land had been unused for years and was under the ownership of a London Railway company, but again, that plan was rejected because Transport for London decided to build the Kings Cross International terminus which would link with the Channel Tunnel Eurostar.
It was then in 2001 that Islington Council gave the nod to Arsenal to construct the new stadium on a waste disposal site at Ashburton Grove, just half a mile from Highbury. It was to be a 60,000-seater state-of-the-art arena with plans to develop the surrounding areas at the same time. The entire project came to £390m, whilst the original plans costed the construction at just over £50m. In addition to the stadium plans, Arsenal constructed a new £60m waste disposal plant to replace the old one, housing in the area and £1m to Islington Council for the development of local sports facilities. Fast-forward to now, and Arsenal are planning another slight increase in capacity by some 750 seats, all of which will be on ‘Club Level’.
So the Emirates Stadium was supposed to put Arsenal up there with the big guns in Europe, but it in all honesty it has failed to do so. The team are yet to win a Premier League title at the Emirates and trophies have been few and far between since the Invincibles season of 03/04. Since their move in 2008. they’ve won 4 FA Cups and 3 Community Shields, which isn’t much to boast about. Many point towards the debt left by the Emirates as an obstacle to Arsenal’s success. Year after year, Arsenal saw key names like Henry, Fabregas and Van Persie leave for other European giants because the post-construction budget did not allow Wenger to support those players with others of the same quality.
Instead players like Yossi Benayoun, Mikel Arteta and Andre Santos were purchased in the hope that they would come up big for the club, but it just wasn’t to be. There has been little to cheer about in terms of big game success, with Arsenal more recently finding themselves outclassed by other teams in the top 6. However, there is probably one match which sticks out above the rest- the Champions League match against Barcelona in February 2011. Arsenal had gone 1-0 thanks to a David Villa goal and the warning signs were looming but the Gunners fought back through Van Persie and Arshavin to win the match 2-1. Jack Wilshere played out of his skin against Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets at the tender age of 19 and the Emirates Stadium hit decibel levels that probably haven’t been reached too often in the red side of North London since the move from Highbury.
The Emirates crowds have now received a bit of rejuvenation after Wenger’s 22-year reign with Emery guiding the club to 8 victories in a row. On the pitch, Arsenal are playing with more passion and determination and the Spanish head coach’s regime are clearly making a difference to the squad. Without a doubt the Emirates crowd will be hoping there are more nights like the one in February 2011.