IT seems like an eternity ago that Ibrox housed a sell-out crowd for Rangers vs Bayer Leverkusen in the Europa League back in March 2020.
The European clash was the final match in the United Kingdom with a capacity attendance before the Coronavirus pandemic struck, sending the world into lockdown.
Since then, Rangers have gone on to clinch a 55th title in their history as they romped to the league championship with a 25-point gap ahead of city rivals Celtic.
Supporters may have absent for the entire season, but yesterday a small portion of fans were able to pay tribute to their heroes as 2,000 lucky spectators were granted access to Ibrox for a friendly clash against Arsenal.
Manager Steven Gerrard, assistant Gary McAllister and the players were met by a chorus of “Glasgow Rangers champions” as they took to the Ibrox turf for their warm-up, and it was clearly an emotional moment for all involved.
Gerrard opted for an attacking line-up to face off against his Premier League opponents with Jermain Defoe, Kemar Roofe and Ianis Hagi all in from the start.
It was the defensive quarters who had to look sharp early on though when goalkeeper Allan McGregor gifted possession to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The Gunners striker needs no introduction, but he surprisingly sent his shot up and over the bar from inside the box after grabbing possession of the ball and driving into the box.
This early opportunity appeared to spark Rangers into life and shortly before the 15-minute mark, Gerrard’s side found themselves ahead.
James Tavernier produced a pinpoint curling corner for defender Leon Balogun who cleverly glanced a header into the far corner beyond goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo.
The well worked set piece caught Mikel Arteta’s side unawares and the small band of Rangers supporters took to their feet as they celebrated a goal inside Ibrox for the first time in 16 months.
They weren’t celebrating for long though as Arsenal levelled the scoring just moments later.
The equaliser came via new Emirates signing Nuno Taveres, who switched to North London from Benfica for a £7million fee earlier this summer.
The defender latched onto a slack piece of control by Tavernier, before curling his effort into the far corner past McGregor. It was a smartly taken goal, but the chance could have been avoided if the defending was tighter.
Emile Smith-Rowe saw plenty of the ball in the middle of the park in the first half and he almost teed up Aubameyang on 30 minutes. The usually prolific striker got his header all wrong after he was found at the back post with an exquisite cross by Smith-Rowe.
Aubameyang then turned supplier as he neatly played in the marauding Flo Balogun. The American failed to find the back of the net though with McGregor producing a fine stop.
A concerning moment then arrived for Steven Gerrard as Jermain Defoe clutched his hamstring as he chased a long ball over the top. The Englishman hit the deck and was subsequently substituted for Scott Wright.
The extent of the injury remains to be seen, but Gerrard will have concerns over his striking numbers for Champions League qualifying, with Alfredo Morelos still to return from international duty with Colombia.
Before the half was out Smith-Rowe danced his way into the final third before firing a shot off at McGregor. The veteran keeper saved into the path of Aubameyang, who was denied from close range as Calvin Bassey scooped the ball off the line.
Kieran Tierney cut his summer holiday short to star in this bounce game at Ibrox and he was greeted onto the field by plenty of boos and jeers from the home support.
“Kieran Tierney won’t see 10-in-a-row” was the chant ringing around the stands as the second half got underway, but the Scotland international did not appear phased by the hostile reception.
Thomas Partey and Smith-Rowe both had chances as Arsenal started brightly, but it was Rangers who took the lead once more, this time through Cedric Itten.
The Swiss striker could have a major role to play early in the season, especially if Defoe is side-lined for a while through his hamstring strain.
The 24-year-old took his goal expertly as he bulleted home a header from a Tavernier corner.
Rangers’ lead was almost doubled through youngster Stephen Kelly, but goalkeeper Karl Hein did well to palm to safety after the striker aimed one at goal following a Glenn Middleton cutback.
The chance would be rued as Arsenal were back on level terms shortly after. Eddie Nketiah showed a tidy turn of pace inside the box before firing a shot under McGregor.
McGregor had to look sharp in the dying stages as Nketiah and Hector Bellerin both had opportunities late on, but Rangers dug deep to earn the draw that they deserved.
The Champions League draw now awaits on Monday where Gerrard’s side will enter at the third-round qualifying stage. Potential opponents include Cluj, Legia Warsaw, Malmo and Ludogorets.