Singaporean football fans unleash their full Arsenal
The Gunners are joining Everton, Stoke City and a Singapore Select XI in this year’s Barclays Asia Trophy, which commences on Wednesday. But there can be no doubt which outfit is the star attraction.
Thousands of fans came together in a splash of red and white to celebrate this rare opportunity to see first-hand a team that captured a second consecutive FA Cup just two months earlier.
The players entered the arena in staggered bunches, each introduced by the stadium announcer, with the biggest cheers reserved for Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey.
The spectacle of new signing Petr Cech (pictured above) in his helmet and Arsenal red, rather than Chelsea blue, was also relished by the faithful.
“We love you Arsenal, we do” rang out from the gathered supporters’ club before they draped themselves in an enormous flag, feting Arsene Wenger as he began marshalling the troops.
Strutting around in football boots and shorts, Wenger was every part the commander-in-chief, grinning regularly and occasionally kicking a ball that came near him as the players warmed up.
The crowd had the feel of expectant children on Christmas morning, the excitement building as their numbers grew and they came to terms with what was unfolding before them.
Selfies, of course, were the order of the day and fans who started as strangers happily helped their fellow Gunners get the perfect snap, with their hero of choice displayed on the back of their shirts.
Once two half-pitch practice games broke out, fans cheered when Theo Walcott’s cross from the left was buried by a leaping Olivier Giroud.
There was also the odd jeer as players sent long-range shots sailing over the crossbar as they blew out the cobwebs following their long journey from England.
It is on the training track where the fluent passing and movement that has personified Wenger sides for near-on two decades is forged and that was plainly on show once more, even this early in pre-season.
A round of applause also swept across one end of the stadium when Cech produced two fine saves to deny his new teammates.
The team then left to a rapturous response from a crowd that most likely will be flooding back tomorrow to see them take part in a proper match.
Everton and Stoke City also held training sessions later in the night, giving them an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the stadium.
Everton’s Roberto Martinez and Phil Jagielka kicked off proceedings in front of a packed media contingent at the Grand Hyatt. It was a largely straight event as the duo was quizzed about the Toffees’ chances of bouncing back from last year’s disappointing 11th-place finish.
Next came Singapore Select coach V Sundramoorthy and rising goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud for a press conference which was conducted in a markedly different tone.
Quips and jokes were the order of that session, starting with a question on whether Sundram would “park the bus” in their daunting showdown with Arsenal on Wednesday night.
Stoke City and then Arsenal spoke to the press, with questions ranging from tricky, news-angled probing from the hard-nosed English contingent, to the inevitable questions from local scribes about the conditions and knowledge of Singapore players.
Arsenal then found time to spoil their fans a little more by launching their new away kit by the water later in the evening. It was the first time they had unveiled a kit outside of England and drew another enormous gathering.
Jerseys from all the visiting teams have been spotted around town in recent days as interest in the Barclays Asia Trophy steadily grows.
Organisers will be hoping for a packed house over the coming match days on Wednesday and Saturday, but the early stages of this year’s event have demonstrated Premier League love remains mighty strong in this part of the world.
Photos courtesy of Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo