On Friday, PUMA held an event at Grand Central Station that brought in thousands of fans throughout the day. A youth 3 v. 3 tournament was taking place all day, and the FA Cup was made available for the public to take pictures with it. Arsenal dino-mascot Gunnersaurus also made an appearance and was a hit. Later on, Arsenal players Mikel Arteta, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, and Tomas Rosicky came by to play a game with the lucky winners of the tournament. I had actually left for a bit and then got back to Grand Central just as the players were leaving. Except that they couldn’t leave for a while as dozens of screaming fans had come out to surround the car carrying them, hoping for a glimpse or their heroes and snapping away pictures. You’d have thought it was a rock star, or Derek Jeter, in the car. Nope, the excitement was for some soccer players.
Friday night, Gooners took over a two block stretch of 14th Street for a massive Arsenal Supporters Social as three different bars were each packed with hundreds of Arsenal supporters and had different events going on. I didn’t make it out to 14th street until 10:30 or 11 pm, and while I was too late for many of the organized festivities, there were still many fans in Arsenal shirts walking the streets and singing various songs and chants. I went into both O’Hanlon’s and The Blind Pig, and they were both still filled to the brim with fans drinking and socializing and discussing all things Arsenal.
Saturday was the crowning moment of the weekend when Arsenal took on their legendary striker Thierry Henry and the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. The Red Bulls may have been the home team, but it felt more like a home game for the Gunners as Arsenal fans outnumbered Red Bulls fans about 10 to 1, if not more. It was a sight to see Gunners fans streaming from the train station and marching to the stadium. Inside, the atmosphere was electric as Arsenal fans, dressed in the team kits, were loud and singing all the Arsenal songs. I attended two Arsenal games a couple years ago and the atmosphere inside Red Bull Arena easily trumped what I remember from inside the Emirates.
The match itself was typical of a preseason outing. The team Arsenal brought to New York was a bit diluted due to their World Cup stars still being away on holiday, but it still included several of the first team stars. Fans didn’t seem to be too concerned about the team on the field or the slew of youngsters who took over in the second half. As Mike commented earlier, “just the fact that they’re here at all is exciting in itself.” Arsenal displayed some nice play, but showed quite a bit of rustiness in the final third. In fairness to the Red Bulls, they played a good game and always looked more likely to score. The fans roared when Henry pulled off a dazzling piece of skill to get past his man at one point. Most of the first-team regulars made way at halftime for the youngsters, and once Henry was substituted off to a rousing ovation from the entire stadium early in the second half, both the fans and the match petered out. As the final whistle blew, the fans all got up and applauded in appreciation, despite the Gunners losing 1-0. Sure it was disappointing for the Gunners to lose – and not even score for that matter, but everyone knew this was just preseason and the whole point was to give fans in America a chance to see their heroes play live. The atmosphere was fantastic and to be surrounded by fellow Gooners was an incredible experience.