In the run-up to the 2019/20 season, there was still quite a lot to sort out at Arsenal.
Unai Emery was in charge, which didn’t exactly instil a tremendous amount of confidence amongst the majority of the club’s supporters. His first season in charge was inconsistent and frustrating for the fans, and the Europa League final defeat to Chelsea was a disastrous showing.
Emery was sacked in November 2019 and in came the untested Mikel Arteta. The former Arsenal captain’s only experience at the time was in his role as assistant to Pep Guardiola, but the change seems to be paying off. Arteta has brought energy, structure and belief to the club and with two trophies under his belt already, there is an air of optimism for the new season. Gunners fans will be hoping that Arteta and his coaching team will bring more silverware and a top-four finish come May.
Looking back at the 2019/20 pre-season tour of America, it was an enormous contrast to the summer of hope we’ve just enjoyed. Anyone who follows the latest news in the MLS knows how big a deal the tour was for American “soccer” fans. But what about for Arsenal? It turned out to be a prophetic tour for what was about to come in the 2019/20 season.
It all seemed so simple!
Despite the murmurings of fan unrest, the 2019/20 pre-season tour seemed like a great idea at the time. Fans were pleased to see the 29-man Arsenal squad head out to the States and get ready for the new Premier League season. It allowed Emery to further stamp his identity on the squad, sharpen their strengths and also test the emerging young talent waiting in the wings. It soon took a turn for the worse though!
The main issue was around then club captain, Laurent Koscielny. At the time the US tour was being planned, the Frenchman was the team’s captain and had been a loyal servant for nine years. He had asked the club to display the same kind of loyalty back and allow him to cancel his contract, despite having one year left on it. When Arsenal were not inclined to agree, news that Koscielny refused to travel on the pre-season US tour saw him stripped of the captaincy before being disciplined.
Although flying out to the States to play against good teams seemed a good idea on paper, many fans thought that the amount of travelling involved was a step too far. When you look at the fixtures that took place, you can see their point. Their four matches took place in four different locations which were not that close together; Los Angeles, Charlotte and Washington DC.
Did Emery get this wrong and effectively tire his players out with excessive travelling before the start of the full season? Considering the poor performances in the early games of the 2019/20 season, this seems a plausible argument. Amongst a string of draws, the most notable example is the disheartening 2-2 tie against Watford.
Results were positive
Although the US pre-season tour did have its issues, the actual results were encouraging for the Gunners. Emery’s men beat Colorado Rapids 3-0, Bayern Munich 2-1, Fiorentina 3-0 and drew 2-2 with Real Madrid (losing 2-3 on penalties).
With these results, the club should have been confident for the new Premier League season and fans expected to see a blend of exciting youngsters in the first team. Ultimately, this never quite happened for Unai Emery, and he suffered the consequences when sacked in November.
Was the US tour a good idea?
There is no doubt that pre-season games against decent opposition are key. They not only help players to get match-fit but also allow managers to tinker with formations, tactics and playing partnerships.
While the 2019/20 Arsenal pre-season games in the US did this to a certain extent, it also came with a few drawbacks as discussed above. Did the whole Koscielny debacle cast a shadow over the team for the new campaign and did excess travelling leave the players more worn out than ever? Although we may never know, the sacking of Emery and the continuing frustrations over performances until then seem to suggest so.