Arsenal Asia Tour 2011: Malaysia

The tickets to the game that I purchased were for the free seatings of the Green Gate zone. They cost RM108 each and came along with passes to the club’s training session prior to the friendly match against our national team.

I also bought the Arsenal Limited Edition 125th Anniversary Box Set for RM130, which was half of the original retail price. The package consisted of the new home jersey for the coming season, a pair of passes to the training session, a pair of Gunner Challenge KL tickets, and card-boards of images with history of the club and description of the new home kit.
Gunner Challenge KL @ Mid Valley Megamall Exhibition Centre – 12 July 2011, 2PM
There were people in Arsenal jerseys every where in the shopping complex that day. It was already crowded with hundreds at the entrance 2 hours before the start time of the event stated on the tickets. I thought it was incredible to see this many turned up despite it being a working Tuesday.
Nothing much inside, really. A few mock figures in the new home kit and jacket. Decorations, banners, posters and so on.
Some touch screen panels that displayed images and the presentation of the new Nike football boots.
They were having an Under-18 street soccer tournament in the other halls. The two finalist teams got to be coached by the real Gunners. I was quite excited as well when I found out about it. But nobody knew who were the ones coming. Even Nike didn’t wanna reveal it when I asked.
Projected visuals on the walls of the hall that changed images in every few seconds.
The crowded packed up when it was obvious that the players were arriving.
And the ones who came were Jack Wilshere, Alex Song Bilong, Wojciech Szczęsny and Theo Walcott. Before they came to serve the main purpose, they had a little press conference where only invited medias had access.

It was so crowded and uncomfortable, I left before I could actually see them clearly. The organisers should’ve managed the environment better for the audience. They shouldn’t had allowed that many people to the event if they couldn’t cater to the occasion.
Arsenal Training Session @ National Stadium Bukit Jalil – 12 July 2011, 7PM

It was an incredible hot weathered day and it remained like that even till now. Many turned up to watch the club train on our domestic field. The first thing that came onto my mind after I sat down in the stadium was how much smaller the pitch actually looks in real life. Probably it was because I was too adjusted in watching football matches on TV. It was in fact my first time watching football live at a stadium and not on screen.

The manager Arsene Wenger and assistant Pat Rice made way to the pitch first to inspect the field. The crowd, of course, cheered and they responded by walking towards us while smiling and waving.

And then the whole team came on and did drills. They even had a practice match against each other.

It was like a dream come true for any true Malaysian Arsenal fan because it ain’t often that you’d get to see your favourite football club play before you. The last time the club came was 12 years ago for crying out loud! How many of us could even afford to go to North London, let alone getting the tickets to any games at all in England?

While the players were having their training, the dragon mascot of the club had his too, practicing to entertain and interact with the audience.

After their one hour plus practice, they walked around the field to give us a round of applause for dropping by.

They threw some souvenirs to the crowd. Walcott was throwing some caps at the area where I was sitting.

Malaysia XI vs Arsenal @ National Stadium Bukit Jalil – 13 July 2011, 8.45PM
I arrived at the destination 4 hours before match time to avoid traffic congestion and to reserve good seats.
Much to my surprise, at least a thousand had already arrived before I did. It was quite an eye opener with majority in the red jerseys, and some in yellow (old away kit or national team jersey). I had never been around that many Gooners ever. Ironically, it seemed like a Bersih rally but with more Patriot demonstrators.
Celcom were having some games and activities around the stadium to keep the atmosphere pumped. It was quite cool to see some hardcore fans that either painted their faces or worn plenty of accessories to express their support to their teams.
Thousands turned up (apparently 30,000 in total at the end) but it wasn’t a sell-out audience as many empty seats could be seen.
Many group came with signs and banner. There was one that stated “Nasri Don’t Go“. Everyone cheered in agreement to the plea of the banner when they saw it. Some signs were just embarrassing; such as the one that stated “In Arsene We Play“, which sounded totally wrong although with good intention.
There were two screens at both sides of the stadium to show visuals, videos, team line-ups, the score and the live broadcast of the game. Replays, however, weren’t shown at all. I’m guessing that it’s the rule of the game so that teams couldn’t argue or appeal to calls made by referees.
The players came onto the pitch to warm up 30 minutes before match time. Nasri, Van Persie and Wilshere got chants from the crowd repeatedly. They each waved back in response for at least once. Nasri‘s name was chanted the most because the fans were trying to appeal for him to remain with the club this coming season. The most hilarious moment was when a large group of the audience were chanting for “air” (water) at the refreshment vendors that were moving around.
The following video recorded with my mobile phone shows the audience’s attempt on Mexican Waves but didn’t seem that successful due to the lack of people.
Arsenal players worn their new away kit while the Malaysians were in their trademark yellow “Harimau” (tiger) jerseys. The game kicked off after the handshakes, greetings and exchange of souvenirs between the teams. I actually thought they were going to play the national anthem first.
Within just five minutes into the game, Wilshere was tripped down by a Malaysian defender and was awarded a penalty. I took the opportunity to record the first goal of the game with my mobile phone.
Aaron Ramsey converted the penalty and it was 1-0 to Arsenal. The collective cheer of the audience for the goal wasn’t as loud as I was expecting it to be. The atmosphere of the whole night was quite weak in overall actually. Probably because the stadium wasn’t full.
The audience stood up whenever they sense the possibility of a goal. Our local players actually played quite well in the first half, having a lot of possession and showing some ball-keeping composure and skills. The most impressive player for the first 60 minutes was actually local player, Kunalan A/L Subramaniam, the only Malaysian Indian on the pitch. His incredible Speedy Gonzales pace and acceleration with the ball was even more significant than Walcott. New Arsenal signing, Carl Jenkinson, was obviously struggling to keep up with him defensively (well actually, he wasn’t impressive at all in the whole match). Unfortunately, Kunalan alone couldn’t create our local team clear cut chances.
The Gunners were struggling to create chances. But eventually they managed to grab the second goal through a great pass by Ramsey to Walcott who chipped the ball over the keeper with precision.
Wenger made some changes at the half and both of the substitutes were the culprits of the third goal. Thomas Rosicky released Carlos Vela for his trademark chip over the keeper. After that, most of the audience were rooting for the local side to score one back but the poor second half display by the players caused much vocal expression of disappointment.
Like how gigs have the best bands to perform last, Arsenal star players Sagna, Van Persie, Nasri and Arshavin were only subbed into the game with 24 minutes left. Only then I could appreciate the huge difference of class between the two sides. I was disappointed that Wenger didn’t start the four of them but he did, it would’ve been an overkill.
There were times that Gunners slacked off defensively as though they were giving our local players a chance to score. I only began noticing after Frimpong seemed to have allowed the opposing player dribble into the box.
Rosicky headed in a corner kick during injury time and the match ended with a 4-0 win to Arsenal.
The players shook hand with one another before applauding the audience to show their appreciation.
Quite frankly, I thought the match could’ve been better but it was still quite an awesome new experience for me. It was rather sad to see how shaky the Arsenal defense still was, even when their were only up against Malaysia. Wenger must not deny that the team defense has much to improve and that a couple of big signings are a must.
(My friend, Josh and myself)
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