12 January 2014

Will Arsenal tour the US this summer?

According to a report in The Daily Mail (click here to view the article), it is possible that Arsenal could tour the US this coming summer. It would be a departure of sorts from the wildly successful 2013 Asia Tour, which saw fans throng the streets and pack stadiums in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Japan to watch the Gunners romp through a few friendly matches, including one against Nagoya Grampus Eight, the club Arsène managed before taking the reins at Arsenal.

Toyota Park, home to the Chicago Fire
There has been talk of a US tour in the past, but it's been a move that Arsène has resisted—in fact, Arsenal is one of the last major Premier League clubs to go on a summer tour; its first-ever was in 2011, as Arsène has preferred to keep the club closer to home to train for the upcoming Prem season. However, with owner Stan Kroenke exerting more influence and pressure, it seems that the financial rewards of the tour finally trumped Arsène's concerns about fitness and fatigue. After three summer trips to Asia, it's possible that the club could look across the pond to tour the United States, a move that would make a good deal of sense coming on the heels of NBC's $250 million deal to get the broadcast-rights to air all Premier matches for the next three years.

Should the club commit to the trip, it presents perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Americans to see the Gunners first-hand without making a trip to London. Which cities would the club visit? They'd certainly stop in New York City, home to the Red Bulls and Thierry Henry. While there, they'd almost certainly make a swing up to Boston. It would be a cute way to tweak the nose of Boston-based John Henry (principal owner of Liverpool), if nothing else. However, beyond that, what happens next? They could hardly afford to ignore Chicago, the third-largest media market in the US.

Of course, this is all predicated on the idea that Arsenal will actually come to the US in the first place. It's a World Cup year, of course, and players will be wary of anything that might distract them from their commitments to their respective national teams. Arsène himself, speaking before the 2010 World Cup, was dead-set against the idea of a US tour, saying, that such a tour "doesn't prepare the players properly, it's not possible to take players who are just back from World Cups or European Championships, and the Champions League qualifiers might be vital to the season." That's a valid point, even if an American tour is just a hop, skip, and jump from Brazil. Take, for example, how much slower Santi Cazorla has been after his 2013 summer tour with the Spanish national team. Given that France, England, Spain, and Germany have all qualified, any Arsenal tour would likely not include key players—shorn of the likes of Gibbs, Monreal, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Sagna, Cazorla, Wilshere, Özil, Podolski, Giroud, Ox, and Walcott, would it be worth the price of admission? Sure, we could still see Szczesny, Rosicky, Gnabry (maybe), and Arteta, among others, along with youngsters such as Akpom, Zelalem, Jenkinson, Bellerin, and Eisfeld, but they don't quite inspire the same goose-bumps or heart-flutters—yet.

While such a squad might suffer for marquee-names, seeing Gunners of almost any vintage grace Soldier Field or Toyota Park would be a glorious experience indeed, especially for those of us who may never get a chance to visit Ashburton Grove.  Even if we don't get to see Wilshere or Ramsey or Özil in the flesh, who knows? We could just see the emergence of the next club legend bathing himself in glory against the Chicago Fire or an American "Dream Team". I don't know how things are going at Small Bar on Chicago's West Side , but, judging by the attendance and enthusiasm for matches at The Globe on Chicago's North Side, Arsenal would do well to make an appearance here in Chicago. I just pray that Arsène and Kroenke see it the same way I do...