The United States has long been earning a reputation as the leading destination of choice for English Premier League sides looking to combine preparation for the new season with expanding their name overseas. Yet one club long stood out among the crowd in resisting the temptation across the Atlantic. Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger has always been wary of lengthy travel times hindering his preseason preparations, but, for the first time in his reign and the first time in 25 years, Arsenal will play a match in the U.S. on Saturday when taking on the New York Red Bulls. And Wenger is excited to be in the Big Apple.
“Sometimes our training camps are decided for commercial reasons to extend the popularity of the club,” he said, according to the London Evening Standard. “We have been to Asia, of course, and we have many fans there. This is the first time for us to come to the States and I’m very happy we can come to New York because it’s a city I love.”
Arsenal’s return to the U.S. coincides with a new boon in soccer in the country, especially following this summer’s World Cup. Wenger, too, has noticed the upturn in the sport.
“The enthusiasm about soccer in the States is new but big. I expect us to have a good crowd there,” he added, reports Arsenal’s official website. “I hope that we can help to develop the interest in the game and that we can play a good match there to make people enjoy it. It is the perfect time to go. I always wanted to go with Arsenal to the United States, so I'm personally very happy to do it.”
While many of Arsenal’s World Cup players will not be involved, including new signing Alexis Sánchez and world champions Mesut Özil, Lukas Podolski and Per Mertesacker, there will still be plenty of talent on show. Along with the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere, the squad includes one of the club’s top young prospects, Gedion Zelalem. His performance will be of particular interest to American eyes, with reports that he could become the latest German-born player to declare his allegiance to the United States.
Much of the attention, though, of course, will be on an Arsenal legend among the opposition. Thierry Henry had eight brilliant years at Arsenal and, such was his connection to the club, even returned for a short loan spell in 2012. Although the 36-year-old has said that his focus is on the Red Bulls’ Major League Soccer campaign and, specifically, a meeting with Real Salt Lake next Wednesday, he disclosed what Arsenal still means to him.
“Wearing the shirt was a privilege for me,” he explained, reports MLSSoccer.com. “I’ve said I understood when I left and came back to play those seven or eight games that I played how important it was to wear the shirt. For me, wearing the Arsenal shirt was the most important thing. It was unbelievable. I felt like a different man in that shirt.”
Red Bulls coach Mike Petke revealed that Henry would play at least 60 minutes but not the full 90, as he too focuses on the priority of ensuring a place in the playoffs for last season’s Supporters’ Shield winners.
Match details: The friendly match will kick off from Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey at 5 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available on Watch ESPN.