Date: 29th April 2010 at 4:32pm
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Football fans have a habit of complaining about the lack of football, among other things (especially regarding the transfer market), in the off season. But we should feel better this summer, with the World Cup ending on 11th July and our beloved Arsenal coming back in the Emirates Cup on 31st July – and presumably some other pre-season games before that.

We’ve debated the pros and cons for English teams to go to North America or Asia in terms of pre-season preparation versus marketing benefits. Arsenal is a rare example among the top European teams in resisting the temptation of reaching out to overseas fans by conducting pre-season tours. Ever since we moved to the Grove, we have been taking advantage of the great stadium in summer by organising the Emirates Cup, inviting teams to come to our home instead of making long-haul trips ourselves.

This tournament has also been generating great gate receipts which render the idea of going on a pre-season tour less attractive from a financial point of view, as Wenger pointed out in the Emirates Cup tournament programme in 2008. This is the reason why he has opted for shorter trips to Austria and other European destinations preceding this tournament which has become an annual festival at the Grove.

This year, the club has lined up a fairly attractive trio to join the fun: AC Milan, Celtic and Lyon. It may not sound much, compared to the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus in the past, and it’s not like we’re facing some new opponents on a rare occasion either. We famously knocked Milan out of the Champions League in 2007-08 and met Celtic earlier this season in the same competition. But having seen Lyon’s European performances of late, I think this combination would represent decent entertainment. It is credit to the club that we are once again treated to a fairly good line-up in summer.

Another benefit of this tournament is that, with better access to tickets and a lower price range than with regular league games, many Gooners who don’t get to see the team very often will have a chance to have a great day out at the Grove. To many overseas fans, it’s also a nice excuse to go to London in summer. I still remember how I embarrassed myself with my broken Italian answering questions about what to see in London from a Juve-supporting old couple from Turin in the long queue leading up to the Arsenal shop on Drayton Park and chatting with a few young Germans about Martin Jol after watching Hamburg’s good performance under him. You get a different crowd to the stadium and the atmosphere has been great in the past few years.

For fans, watching pre-season games is all about hope for the next season by having a glimpse of what the team has to offer, hopefully with some additions and optimisations done to it. Despite the disappointing performances and results in April, many of us would agree that this team has matured a lot in many aspects and that we`re just two or three signings away from building a really strong team that has the potential of dominating domestically and challenging in Europe. This summer should be especially interesting for Arsenal, with the possibility of strengthening of the squad with Arsene getting the benefit of the much-lifted financial restraints – the boss has admitted as much of late. (This way for Amos’ good analysis on that.) The prospect of seeing the tweaked version of our team test themselves against some of the top teams in Europe just adds to the anticipation.

For me, the only shame in the line-up is that we don’t get to play Lyon, as we’ll face Milan on the first day and Celtic on the second. But you have to say Milan-Lyon is a rather interesting fixture too. And if you saw an Arsenal-Celtic-Lyon-Milan combination in the Champions League group stage, you would’ve said that’s a group of death, wouldn’t you? Such is the quality the club is bringing to the Grove every summer. So Gooners, not everyone gets to go to South Africa, but London isn’t a bad idea at all!

Here’s the fixture list in full:

Saturday 31st July 2010
2.00pm Celtic v Olympique Lyonnais
4.20pm Arsenal v AC Milan

Sunday 1st August 2010
2.00pm AC Milan v Olympique Lyonnais
4.20pm Arsenal v Celtic