To many, the MLS All-Star Game is just an exhibition of MLS' most popular players. To others, it's MLS' best challenging a world super power. Either way you slice it, MLS players love to test their mettle against opponents they don't face on a normal basis.
This Thursday, the MLS All-Stars will face a European club team for the 12th straight year (7-3-1). This time, they will line up against EPL-side Arsenal. I caught up with The Short Fuse writer, Paul DeBruler, to discuss the game this week in San Jose.
Once a Metro: The last time Arsenal came to the US, they lost 1-0 to the New York Red Bulls. Is this second trip being viewed as just another exhibition or redemption for the 2014 match (by both the fans and players)?
The Short Fuse: I think most people view it as just another exhibition. There is a certain subset of Arsenal's more....passionate online fans that view every game as life or death, and as such have a, shall we say, somewhat distorted view of the operational realities of this game - it being their second preseason game with a ton of players not here due to post-tournament rest and all. but by and large people just see it as an excuse to go see their favorite team in the US, some for the first time, and don't really take the performance or the result all that seriously.
OaM: How have the fans felt about not being able to nab Jamie Vardy from Leicester City? Are there any other rumored players they are hopeful to see in a Gunners jersey before the season starts?
TSF: One of the realities of being an Arsenal fan in recent years is that Arsenal is perpetually used as a stalking horse for pretty much every "name" player being rumored to be on the move somewhere. So, to answer your latter question, there are many rumored players that fans would love - Alexandre Lacazette, Mauro Icardi, and the latest one, Vardy's teammate Riyad Mahrez have all been linked to Arsenal with various degrees of seriousness in the last couple weeks.
As to your first question: Vardy would be a nice pickup, but I'm not sure he's exactly the type of player Arsenal need - he doesn't play the way Arsenal do, for one, and I'm also skeptical of one-season wonders, especially ones whose one-season-wonderness happened at age 29. He's a decent player, but I'm not heartbroken he decided to stay put (although if Mahrez leaves, following N'Golo Kante out the door, he may well be.
OaM: The goal every season is to win it all. Arsenal finished second in the table last year. Do they have a legitimate shot to take home their first EPL title since 2003-04?
TSF: Honestly? I don't know. I thought they had a very strong shot last year, only to have them beat Tottenham to second place on the last day of the season after fumbling about ridiculously for a lot of the second half of the season. Academically, on paper, they absolutely have the talent to do it - but they have, in recent years, struggled to turn that into real-world title-winning success. And this year, with Mourinho and Guardiola in the league, it will be very interesting to see how Arsenal respond.
Injuries/Omissions: Everyone you saw in the summer - Mesut Özil, Olivier Giroud, Alexis Sánchez, Aaron Ramsey, Laurent Koscielny, etc. - are excused from Arsenal's preseason activities thanks to Wenger's policy of enforced rest for players who play deep into tournaments. In addition, Per Mertesacker's injured and Gabriel has tonsillitis so neither of those two will be traveling.
Predicted XI: With Arsenal also playing [Chivas Guadelejara] Sunday in LA, Wenger might depart from his usual preseason plan of strong starting lineup and really young subs, particularly since that was the mix last week in France at their preseason game in Lens. Thursday might look like
Petr Čech; Héctor Bellerín, Calum Chambers, Krystian Bielik, Kieran Gibbs; Granit Xhaka, Mohamed Elneny; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gedion Zelalem, Alex Iwobi; Theo Walcott
Predicted score: My MLS homerism is showing here, because I think that the MLS players will do what they've done recently and come out guns blazing; the combination of MLS players being in mid-season shape and Arsenal being a bunch of kids and fresh-off-vacation senior players probably means a 2-1 or 3-1 MLS win. But I'm also really bad at predictions, so take that for what it's worth.
You can read Once a Metro's answers to The Short Fuse's questions here.