UEFA has altered the date and kick-off time of Arsenal’s Europa League last-32 fixture against BATE Borisov at the Emirates Stadium – with the game now slated to begin at 5.55pm on Thursday, 21 February, 2019.
The original announcement from governing body UEFA that the game would be played a day earlier and begin at 5pm was widely criticised by Arsenal fans and supporters’ groups.
Both Arsenal and London rivals Chelsea topped their respective groups and will therefore play their second legs at home – with UEFA rules stipulating the pair cannot play in the city on the same night.
The Gunners were the team whose fixture was initially brought forward with UEFA confirming that, as FA Cup winners, Chelsea are given priority.
In UEFA’s initial statement they said the Arsenal game would kick-off at 5pm on the Wednesday – but when the official fixture list was circulated it fell into line with the other second-leg ties which will kick-off early on the Thursday.
Lois Langton, chair of the Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association, believes the original decision showed a disregard for fans planning to attend the game against BATE – and that the alteration of kick-off time by 55 minutes will still cause some to miss out.
“The announcement that the home leg of Arsenal’s round of 32 tie will see a 5pm kick-off shows the scant regard UEFA holds for match-attending supporters and will undoubtedly impact on the attendance figures,” she told Press Association Sport ahead of UEFA’s decision to alter its plans.
Once the new time and date had been confirmed, Langton added: “That news makes the change a little more palatable but the reality is that many working supporters will still struggle to arrive in time for kick-off.
“The right and proper course of action is to restore the match to when it should be played – at 8pm on the Thursday evening.”
Although kick-off times were two hours apart, both Arsenal and Chelsea last played at home on the same day as recently as December 2.
Both clubs hosted their nearest neighbours in Premier League derbies as Chelsea beat Fulham 2-0 in a game that kicked off at midday, with Arsenal then winning 4-2 against Tottenham in a 2.05pm kick-off at the Emirates Stadium later that day.
UEFA has been contacted for comment.