A fun day out despite defeat
HARRISON, N.J. -- There was a moment in the second half when I turned to ESPN FC colleague David Hirshey and we tried to figure out where Thierry Henry was playing.
He had been picking the ball up throughout the game in a defensive midfield position; the centre-halves fed him like they would an Andrea Pirlo or Mikel Arteta lest he give them the TH14 patented glare of disdain.
At one point, Henry was where the left-back should be, and the fact that he played the ball square to Tim Cahill, a temporary central defender, should tell you everything you need to know about Saturday's game between the New York Red Bulls and Arsenal.
When Henry was taken off after roughly 55 minutes, the legend milked the applause, waved to all corners of the ground, hugged Abou Diaby, sat on the bench for the rest of the game and still won the man of the match award -- regardless of the fact that his most memorable contribution was whacking a free kick high over the bar. If the previous description didn't tell you everything you needed to know about the game, this definitely should.
For Arsenal, fresh off the back of a transatlantic trip, this was a game played at an exhibition pace. A small piece of their preseason routine, that was the way it was always going to be. If the first half saw the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Wojciech Szczesny, the second was made up of players who will rarely, if ever, get near the team for the duration of the 2014-15 campaign.
Nacho Monreal is unlikely to ever play centre-half for the Gunners again, while guys like Jon Toral, Kristoffer Olsson and Ignasi Miquel will have to do a lot more to convince Arsene Wenger they are ready for first-team action. The complete lack of forward options would have a more delicate man crying this morning.
But the game itself, as dull as it was, was about more than just the 90 minutes. In the Red Bull Arena, Arsenal fans outnumbered their local counterparts by about 10 to one. The shirts were red and white or yellow and blue. The songs were about the players from London. Despite the loss, the fans got to experience the fact that Arsenal is about more than what happens on the pitch.
From the communal Goonerism on 14th Street for a couple of nights before the game to poring over the defeat on the way back from the giant car park that's home to Red Bull Arena, it was a reminder that football, for all the emphasis on the game itself, is a way of bringing people together in so many ways. The 90 minutes are just a part of what fans experience week in, week out. The rest of it -- the singing, dancing, drinking, hugging and jumping around -- is so important too.
Arsenal will continue their preparations for the new season in their Austrian training camp and at the Emirates Cup next weekend. However, the New York trip will have played its part in terms of commercialism and fitness, and it will be something those of us who were there won't ever forget for so many reasons.