NEW YORK -- Football is big in New York, with packed bars for Premier League and La Liga games, plus one – soon to be two MLS teams – making their home in the city. And with Frank Lampard the latest pilgrim to follow the Mayflower, the ties between the east coast and the European game are growing ever stronger.
That has been highlighted further this week with the arrival of Arsenal, the North London Club in town to play a pre-season fixture against the New York Red Bulls, captained by former Gunners’ striker Thierry Henry - another to have made the crossing from Europe to the game's ‘New World’.
"Football is growing in America," Mathieu Flamini tells HuffPost. "You have a good example from today with Frank Lampard coming to sign for a team in New York. More and more Americans seem to be appreciating soccer so it’s exciting, especially for players like us who get to play in Europe. Maybe one day we’ll have the opportunity to come and play in the US."
Playing in the MLS is something the French midfielder would certainly consider, Flamini adds.
Likewise Mikel Arteta, who has watched with interest the transfer of his friend David Villa, who preceded Lampard in signing for the Manchester City-backed New York City FC, which is due to join the MLS next season.
"I think they are growing the sport and the fan base in a very intelligent way with the MSL," the Spanish midfielder tells HuffPost. "They are making it very attractive and seem to have the structure in place to really progress with the domestic league. It helps that they are attracting big players, which means there’s a lot of media around the game, a lot of people are talking about it. The game in the US is definitely going in the right direction, so there’s a real opportunity for players to come over from Europe."
On Villa, Arteta was not surprised at the move, saying he was "the right age". "I know him well and he was looking for a move like that," he adds. "I’m delighted for him. He’s really happy and I think it’ll be a great opportunity for him here, though it’ll be a different type of pressure. I think Xavi is close to coming as well, so there’s a lot of interest in joining the league."
Iker Casillas too, according to the NYC FC Twitter page – a Spanish invasion complimented by a lad from East London.
"You could see how the US had progressed in the World Cup," says Abou Diaby, now an Arsenal veteran. "They did really well and had the whole country behind the team. They got to the last 16, which is really good, so the potential is there for them to succeed."
"In terms of the size of the US market for British domestic soccer, I don’t think they’ve even scratched the surface yet," says Tom Fox, the club’s Chief Commercial Officer. “Plus all our commercial partners, the partners who ask us to help them promote their brand, are asking Arsenal to take a look at this market, so there’s something going on here in the US and we know it can help our partners be successful."
It’s a market that many big European clubs are attempting to exploit, with Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Roma, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Olympiakos all currently muddying their boots on US soil.
"We have a huge following on social media – I think we have more Twitter followers than any other premier league club – and many of those Twitter/Facebook followers are in the United States," says Fox.
Arsenal certainly has name recognition in the US, and not only from the NBC premier league coverage. Piers Morgan, a zealous Arsenal fan and erstwhile host of Piers Morgan Live on CNN, spent much of last season tweeting delight and disgust (mainly disgust) about his beloved team to his myriad of trans-Atlantic followers.
"Some of Piers Morgan’s comments are… very interesting," says Flamini, with some slight unease.
"So interesting he lost his show," chimes in Fox.
Flamini continues: "Look, he’s very passionate and it’s good that as a supporter he loves the club that much… but sometimes it’s not that easy to perform and win titles, but hopefully he was happy that we won a cup last season. Maybe there will be more titles coming."
The French holding player says that taking criticism is part of the team’s job as professional players.
"Everyone has something to say about the club so we focus on performing and not on what the fans are saying out side of the pitch," Flamini says.
Moving on to more comfortable ground, Arsenal have a new ‘marquee’ player, the Chilean strike Alexis Sanchez, who Flamini says will add "quality to the team".
"I met him when he was doing his medical," says Arteta. "He was very happy to join the club; it’s a big time for him. We have to try and help him settle in as quickly as possible, but he will certainly bring a lot of quality to the squad, so we’re looking forward to having him."
"I think he will fit in with the existing Arsenal system," says Diaby. "He’s a very talented player, so he should match perfectly with our style of play."
It’s a style that Arsene Wenger has developed over his 17-year tenure as manager of the club, and a way of playing that brands want to be associated with.
Swiss watchmaker Jean Richard is just the latest hoping to benefit from the association with the North London outfit.
"The fit was very easy," Bruno Grande, the company’s MD, tells HuffPost. "Arsenal is all about style, respect, the way they play, the way the team behaves – it’s the reason why we decided to work with them. Luckily enough, they decided to work with us."