Manchester City beat Arsenal in muted atmosphere as Premier League returns

When Manchester City scored the first goals the Premier League had seen in more than three months, only health workers were in the stands to applaud. For the last three months, it’s been the nation applauding the health workers. In protective clothing, they were among only 300 people allowed into the Etihad Stadium for the game against Arsenal which helped end the Premier League’s 100-day shutdown on Wednesday.

The 55,000 seats that would usually be filled were instead empty, mostly covered by banners. The only supporters seen celebrating goals from Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden during City’s 3-0 win were on big screens in the stands, streaming live from their homes.

The screens were also used to mourn some of those who died during the pandemic. The face of Glyn Pardoe, a former City player and coach, was shown three weeks after the virus killed him at the age of 73.

“Together we have been facing a health emergency,” the City stadium announcer said. “Heroes have risen to challenges we never imaged.”

The teams also used the occasion to pay tribute to George Floyd, with the players taking a knee around the center circle before kickoff in a gesture of solidarity against the racial injustice reinforced by his death at the hands of police in Minnesota.

All players also wore shirts with the text “Black Lives Matter” replacing the names on their backs.

“I see it as a massive step by the Premier League to allow something like that to happen,” said Sterling, who has been an outspoken campaigner against racism. “It shows we’re heading in the right direction. Little by little, we are seeing change and that’s what everyone is hoping for, not just black players but the majority of the country.”

It was Sterling who scored the Premier League’s first goal since March 9 by capitalizing on an error by David Luiz in first-half stoppage time. The goal celebration featured a touch of elbows with teammates and a brief embrace to respect social distancing.

Substitutes also must remain two meters (6 feet) apart on the sidelines, leaving them sitting up in the stands closer to the press tribune than the bench. The voices of radio commentators and the shouts between the players and coaches only punctuated the unique lack of atmosphere in the world’s biggest football league.

The medical staff, wearing protective equipment, twice had to enter the field in the opening 20 minutes when Arsenal players Granit Xhaka and Pablo Mari went down injured and had to come off.

Some in full white suits and face masks spent 10 minutes on the field in the second half to treat City defender Eric Garcia after a collision with goalkeeper Ederson — a clattering sound that could be heard around the stadium.

He was carried off on a stretcher wearing an oxygen mask as the stadium announcer said: “We wish Eric Garcia a full and speedy recovery.”

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