Arsenal vs. Everton
Friday, 3 p.m. (NBCSN, Universo)
The biggest story in world soccer is still the Super League’s collapse, and this game will be part of the tale. So it’s going to be the focus of this column. Then, hopefully, we’ll never have to talk about it again.
No one was surprised that Arsenal was among the first English teams to sign up for the project. For one thing, if rivals Tottenham and Chelsea were going to do it, Arsenal couldn’t say no unless it was willing to be a permanent second-class citizen in London.
More importantly, it’s been a long time since Arsenal has stood on soccer’s moral high ground. The club has had controversies for years, from eye-watering ticket prices to not backing Mesut Özil when he called out China’s human rights abuses.
Then there’s owner Stan Kroenke, who’s been unpopular among fans for a long time. Arsenal is just one piece of his sports empire that includes the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, and Denver’s NHL, NBA, MLS and indoor lacrosse teams.
It’s a glamorous piece for sure. It gives him the executive box in a palatial stadium with a raft of power brokers in the fan base. But Kroenke hasn’t shown up much and hasn’t cared to keep Arsenal in the Premier League’s elite — which is why it isn’t anymore. His son, Josh, is more involved but can’t make the difference-making decisions.
Both men saw the Super League’s obvious potential. So did the Glazer family that owns Manchester United and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and John Henry of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool. A soccer league from which Europe’s elite can never be relegated is perfect for Americans who are titans of their sports but don’t truly get the world’s game.
Except Arsenal is not just a global conglomerate masquerading as a soccer team. It certainly is that, and it has been one since before the Kroenkes came aboard in 2007. But the club has a genuine soul.
It’s found in the North London residential neighborhood that’s been Arsenal’s home for over a century, and a place to which fans worldwide make pilgrimages, including this writer, who has followed the team for nearly 20 years.
It’s in the diversity of the crowds in the stands, and the players and staff who’ve made the club a longtime leader in fighting racism in soccer.
It’s in legendary alumni such as Thierry Henry and Arsène Wenger, who care more about Arsenal than any other club they’ve been part of.
It’s in this turn of a phrase by The Athletic’s Oliver Kay, a veteran of Arsenal’s press box, that sums up perfectly why Americans detest the Super League:
And it’s in the clarion voice of Ian Wright, a former Arsenal star who’s been a club ambassador for years. His “#KroenkeOut” tweets on Tuesday were thunderbolts that echoed to every corner of the soccer world.
“Remember who you are, what you are and who you represent!” Wright wrote after Arsenal was the first team that apologized for its involvement and admitted it ignored its fans.
The apology was genuine and welcome. But, by Thursday evening, Josh Kroenke was back to being just as tone-deaf as before. In an online forum with fans and chief executive Vinai Venkatesham, Kroenke said he believes “the global fan wants to see Arsenal vs. Barcelona regularly as much as possible,” and “the European fan wants to see more big matches between top clubs because their domestic league is so predictable.”
There will be a protest outside Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium before Friday’s game. Hopefully, NBCSN will televise as much of it as the Chelsea fans’ protests it aired on Tuesday, when the Super League project started to implode.
It will take a lot of work for the Kroenkes to win those fans back. And it will surely take winning a lot more games than Arsenal has this season, mired in ninth place and not likely to move much higher.
Los Angeles FC vs. Seattle Sounders
Saturday, 6 p.m. (ESPN, ESPN Deportes)
Here’s the game of the weekend in MLS, a star-studded battle of perennial Western Conference powerhouses. LAFC’s Diego Rossi and Seattle’s Raúl Ruidíaz are always worth watching, even when colleagues Carlos Vela and Nicolas Lodeiro are battling injuries. Vela is questionable. Lodeiro likely is out.
» READ MORE: Union pursuing Hungarian playmaker Dániel Gazdag
Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Sunday, 11:30 a.m. (ESPN+)
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Barcelona
Sunday, 9 a.m. (beIN Sports Xtra)
The UEFA Women’s Champions League semifinals kick off this weekend. All eyes will be on PSG to see if it can keep the momentum going from a stunning comeback that ousted archrival and four-time reigning champion Lyon. Barcelona is a great team too, with star playmakers including Caroline Graham Hansen, Lieke Martens, Alexia Putellas and Jennifer Hermoso.
The other semifinal first leg, Bayern Munich vs. Chelsea, kicks off at 11 a.m. on wnited.tv.