Saturday’s friendly between Arsenal and New York Red Bulls is a strange one in that both teams downplayed the New York Cup match in Thursday’s press conference.
A lot of planning has gone into this game that will be broadcast live on ESPN2, a game that has brought Gunners fans from across the United States and England. Tickets have been sold out months for the 25,189 seat arena, but some seats are still available via ticket exchanges.
During the press conference, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was asked about the growth of soccer in the United States. The Frenchman said that “The next 20 years will be very exciting. I wish I was younger.”
He described pre-season tours as more of a commercial opportunity for the club than any type of real pre-season training. The “real training” begins next week when the team flies to Austria. “The best is to stay, not travel too much,” added Wenger, especially in a World Cup year when balancing the rest and fitness of a team is under further pressure from the playing time in Brazil.
New York Red Bulls coach Mike Petke described the match as a good springboard for the rest of the season. “It’s going to be a great night Saturday night to have a team like Arsenal come to play,” said Petke, but added that it’s a shame that Thierry Henry can’t play for both teams over the course of the 90 minutes.
Henry described his feelings of playing with Arsenal. “Wearing the shirt was a privilege for me. It was the most important thing.” But his feelings about Saturday’s game are honest. “It is a great opportunity for some of the youngsters to play against them. It is a friendly game, so different. We’re not going to get three points if we win.
“It is a nice thing, but at the end of the day you are judged against the results in the league.”
It is the game on Wednesday against Real Salt Lake that is more important in the eyes of Petke and Henry. Petke added that Henry will not be playing the full 90 minutes against Arsenal, but would most likely be taken out after 60-65 minutes. It is a game for the fans, he says, but one that he as a coach cannot afford to take too lightly even if there are no league points at stake. Petke doesn’t want to have his team repeat the heavy defeat that team rivals LA Galaxy suffered after losing 7-0 to Manchester United.
Asked if there should be a break in the schedule for these international friendlies, Petke said that the league doesn’t even break for the World Cup or most FIFA dates, so why would they interrupt the MLS schedule for this. Soccer in the United States may be experiencing a huge growth, but the realistic coach added, “How many will come back [from the sold-out crowd against Arsenal] for New England next week?”