It seems like just yesterday, doesn’t it? The last day of last season, away at Huddersfield Town, closing out Arsene Wenger’s career with a 1-0 win. It’s been quite the summer since, with Unai Emery appointed coach, four new players in, a few players out, and, maybe, some action in the front office as well.
All of that, of course, is in preparation for the thing that actually matters - playing games. And tomorrow, Arsenal play a game, albeit a game that completely, totally, and utterly does not matter.
One of the things I dislike about soccer is the breathless elevation of things that aren’t important in order to try to make them seem more important than they are. I know that’s pretty much what a lot of people think sports is overall, but I’m being more granular than that. It used to be, even as recently as five years ago, that preseason was just preseason - a time when guys could shake the rust off, work to get their match sharpness back over a month or so, and have a few friendly kickabouts with random teams picked less from a marketing perspective than from a geographic one, or from a similar-playing-style point of view.
Now, of course, everything in the game has been monetized, fetishized, and overhyped to within an inch of its life, so now, instead of a preseason that takes place largely outside the public eye, we get the International Champions Cup, a self-styled “tournament” featuring 18 of Europe’s most popular teams, flung to all corners of the globe, playing friendlies that the ICC has tried to convince people actually matter _as games_.
I fully and completely get why clubs do this - exposure is worldwide now, fans are everywhere, and it’s fun to get to see your favorite team, even if it is essentially spring training. My issue isn’t with the existence of the games (although I do miss the days when Arsenal holed up in Austria for a month), but of the artifice of the Cup moniker.
It makes people think these games matter as sporting contests, as if there were some stakes involved, when really the only “stakes” involve ensuring that players work their way back to full fitness and don’t get hurt in the process.
There may be some glimpses of Actual Arsenal in this game, and in the PSG match on Saturday morning, but the standard caution this time of year is, don’t read anything into these games, and don’t project anything about the actual Premier League season from these games.
Preseason is for trying different things, for making sure that what seems to work in training works against a live opponent, and for the aforementioned working into full fitness. Preaseason games are not a harbinger of anything. It’s not a “rematch of the Europa League semi final”. It’s just a friendly in front of a whole bunch of people who get to see their favorite team up close for probably the only time in their lives, which is pretty cool for them.
With that in mind, it is Unai Emery’s first appearance against a big team on the sidelines as Arsenal coach, so it’ll be both neat (the new era we all wanted to see happen is actually happening!) and weird as hell (the new era we all wanted to see happen is actually happening!) to see someone else prowling the sidelines - or at least standing with arms crossed in the technical area - for Arsenal for the first time since forever.
So if you’re watching this match - and I’ll wager not a lot of you are, since it’s not widely available - sit back, enjoy the sights and sounds and the Unai-ness of it all, have fun watching the new guys, and don’t really sweat what happens until the games start to matter.
Since the game’s on stupid early in most parts of the US, this will also serve as your game thread, should you want to comment on the action.
WHO TO WATCH:
Arsenal v. Atletico Madrid
International Champions Cup
Singapore National Stadium, Kallang, Singapore
WHEN TO WATCH:
Thursday, July 26, 2018
4.35AM PT/7.35 AM ET/12.35PM BT
HOW TO WATCH:
US TV: ESPNU? I think?
US Streaming: ESPN+ (paywall)
International streaming info: available at livesoccer.tv
If you’re interested in an audio-only feed, Arsenal Player has you covered.