Arsenal schedules first U.S. friendly in 25 years, against Thierry Henry, Red Bulls
Arsenal doesn't come to the United States for just anyone, and it's first trip across the Atlantic Ocean in 25 years will pit the London power against former star Thierry Henry.
Two weeks after the World Cup final, Arsenal will take on Henry and the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. The friendly, announced Thursday, will take place July 26 and will mark the English club's only match in the USA during its visit.
"Obviously, it will be good to play against Thierry [Henry]," Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger said in a press release. "He is a very special player in our club’s history, and I know the players and the supporters will enjoy this very much."
Henry is Arsenal's all-time leading scorer with 226 tallies to his name, and he has a statue of his likeness standing outside Emirates Stadium. It will be the first time he faces the club that made him a household name in New York. The Frenchman started the teams' last meeting, a 1-1 draw at the Emirates Cup in London in July 2011, and he even entertained the notion of switching sides and donning an Arsenal kit for the last five minutes of the game but was thwarted by FIFA regulations.
Other players with English ties on New York include Tim Cahill, who played for Millwall and Everton before joining Major League Soccer, and Bradley Wright-Phillips. Wright-Phillips is the son of Arsenal's second-leading scorer, Ian Wright, and younger brother of Queens Park Rangers midfielder Shaun Wright-Phillips.
In the past five preseasons, the Gunners made two trips to Asia in addition to various jaunts around Europe. (They also canceled a game against the Nigerian national team in Abuja, Nigeria, scheduled for August 2012.) After those far-flung tours, a seven-hour flight to New York seems like a short trip.
The friendly is full of intrigue for fans on both sides of the ocean, perhaps explaining Arsenal's reason for the short trip.
American fans could also get a live glimpse of Gedion Zelalem, the 17-year-old German-born prodigy who spent time in Maryland in his youth. He recently his first professional contract with Arsenal, and he featured prominently in the club's four games in Asia last summer.
His eligibility for the U.S. national team has become a recent hot topic, although Zelalem is far more likely to represent Germany. He does not currently have American citizenship, and if he represents any German team before he receives it, he will no longer be eligible to represent the U.S., per FIFA regulations.
Still, his playmaking ability is something to be admired. He could get a chance to play extended minutes, depending on how long the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, Mesut Özil and Jack Wilshere are involved in the World Cup, as they would presumably get a break before reporting for preseason.
Of course, let's not lose sight of the main reason any major European club visits the U.S. in summer: marketing and exposure. The last time the Gunners played here was against Argentine club Independiente in Miami in 1989. "We are delighted to be visiting the United States for the first time in 25 years," Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis said. "We enjoy fantastic support there and in particular in New York, so we are looking forward to providing our fans with an opportunity to watch the team play live."