Arsene Wenger has urged Arsenal’s stay-away fans to turn up and see “quality football” after his side moved third in the Premier League table with a 2-0 win over West Brom at Emirates Stadium.
An official attendance of 59,563 was given for Thursday’s game, but large sections of empty seats were visible.
Asked for a message to fans, Wenger said: “Come and support the team. If you love football, you go out there and I think you see quality football.”
Alexis Sanchez scored twice in the win.
Clubs usually count season ticket holders in official attendances whether they are actually present or not, and there were reports before Thursday’s game that as many as 2,500 fans had returned their tickets.
Wenger said there was no way of knowing why fans did not attend, but defended his side’s performance.
He said: “It was a special night as well, a Thursday night, and I don’t know if you are intelligent enough, nor am I, to detect exactly why everybody that did not turn up tonight did not turn up.
“I believe we dominated from the start to the last minute and in fact, was what we did in the 1-1 draw against Crystal Palace on Sunday.
“Overall I believe the quality of our game was very good. Maybe, we could have scored more goals.”
Striving to stay in the top four is a far cry from how Arsenal’s fans will have imagined this season finishing considering their position on New Year’s Day, when they were top of the table.
The north London club were ideally positioned to challenge for a first Premier League title in 12 years, but a run of just five wins in 2016 prior to the visit of West Brom all but ended their hopes.
A disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Crystal Palace on Sunday left the Gunners 13 points behind leaders Leicester and some fans had made their discontent clear with boos at the final whistle at the weekend.
Fan apathy was evident in the number of empty seats at the Emirates on Thursday, and there was an eerie atmosphere when the game got under way.
An early goal was needed to ease the tension and Sanchez duly stepped up to deliver with a finish of real quality.
The midfielder received a pass from Mesut Ozil and turned Sandro before firing beyond Ben Foster.
The Chilean was at his marauding best and he continued to torment West Brom before deservedly scoring a second, driving a free-kick through the West Brom wall.
Sanchez has now scored five goals in his last four games and his recent performances have certainly provided a much-needed boost for Arsene Wenger – but how the Gunners’ boss must wish those performances had come a couple of months ago.
Arsenal untroubled by blunt Baggies
Under Tony Pulis, West Brom have hardly been prolific. They have scored just 50 goals in 51 games and have had the fewest shots on target in the Premier League this season with 93.
Add to the fact they had lost all but one of their nine previous Premier League trips to the Emirates, and a victory for the visitors looked like a bit of a tall order.
Their best chances came from set pieces. McAuley rattled the bar from a corner when the score was 1-0, while Salomon Rondon missed a near open goal from another corner midway through the second half.
From open play they carried no threat but with the Baggies 15th and 10 points clear of trouble, their job is largely done.
How did ref Jon Moss do?
This game was the first for referee Jon Moss since his controversial performance in the 2-2 draw between leaders Leicester and West Ham on Sunday.
Moss awarded two penalties in that game, and also gave Foxes striker Jamie Vardy a second yellow card for diving.
On Thursday, Moss waved away a West Brom appeal for a penalty when Sanchez appeared to handle inside the area, and also took no action when Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny went down easily inside the area despite there being no contact by a defender.
He issued just the one yellow card and that was to McAuley after the Baggies defender held Olivier Giroud just before half-time.
Man of the match – Alexis Sanchez
Arsenal travel to struggling Sunderland on Sunday while West Brom are at Tottenham on Monday.
The stats you need to know
Arsenal have now won 500 Premier League games, the second team to reach the milestone in the competition (Man United have 584 wins).
The Baggies have won just one of their last 12 Premier League away games (D5 L6).
The Gunners have scored in all 20 of their Premier League games against West Brom – the best 100% record in the division.
Arsenal scored as many goals from outside the box tonight as they had in their 33 previous Premier League games this season (2).
Tony Pulis has lost all eight of his Premier League visits to the Emirates Stadium.
The Potters just did not turn up, which is very unlike them under Mark Hughes.
I was also a bit surprised that Manchester City did not play better in their draw with Newcastle on Tuesday – I was expecting Manuel Pellegrini’s side to kick on after beating Chelsea at the weekend.
But I think they will beat Stoke at Etihad Stadium. They have to, really, because a top four place is still far from guaranteed.
As far as this season’s Champions League goes, I think City have a chance in their semi-final against Real Madrid. Those two games could be any score, and I honestly do not fancy one team more than the other.
Crystal Palace v Watford (FA Cup semi-final, 16:00 BST)
I know Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew changed his team around for Wednesday’s defeat by Manchester United but, before then, they were coming into a bit of form after a long run without a league win.