Arsenal to make return to Asia

Manager Arsene Wenger is supportive of Arsenal's change of policy to conduct lucrative tours in Asia after the Premier League club announced a fixture against a Malaysia XI in July.

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Having previously favoured taking his squad to mainland Europe for low-key pre-season tours, Wenger relaxed his stance and the 13-times English champions played money-making fixtures in Kuala Lumpur and Hangzhou, China last year.

They will return to the Malaysian capital on July 24 before facing Premier League rivals Manchester City in Beijing three days later and finishing on July 29 in Hong Kong against local side Kitchee FC.

Arsenal's Communications Director Mark Gonnella said Wenger and the players fully understood the need for such tours that help the team engage with the supporters and showcase themselves to potential sponsors as well.

"As we attempt to compete on the global stage, which becomes increasing difficulty from a financial point of view, clearly we need to be taking the great name of Arsenal around the world and that's a big part of why we come," Gonnella told Reuters.

"Arsene also understood the changing environment and the need for us to get out and tell our story and show people what Arsenal is up front because it is great watching it on television but it is even better seeing it live and that is really what it is all about.

"It is a must in the modern day."

While Wenger has often been wary of his players' pre-season travels and the resultant fatigue, Gonnella said the club's reluctance had been down to their desire to focus on building the Emirates Stadium in north London.

While Gonnella drove the message the tour was aimed at pleasing fans he acknowledged its financial attractiveness to the club, whose prudent transfer policy has attracted complaints from their own supporters.

"As more and more money gets poured in at the very top of the game the more difficult it is for everybody to compete so we do have to move with the times," Gonnella said.

"Clearly there are match fees involved but actually it is really about showing sponsors and partners and most importantly fans that we are a global club and want to be an even bigger global club."

Asia remains the focus for clubs like Arsenal trying to boost their profile with the other favoured market of North America boasting too much competition, with the likes of the hugely popular National Football League.

"From a fan point of view, and also a sponsors point of view, clearly the economic growth here in Asia is very attractive to our potential partners but the fan piece is the real critical bit for us.

"So clearly sponsors and potential partners are very interested in us travelling around the world, they want to build their own businesses and see the links they can make with great football clubs like ours as vital to their success which then becomes vital to our success."

The fixture in Malaysia, featuring the full Arsenal first team squad including those competing in the European Championships, will kick-off at 2145 local time as the match falls during Ramadan, a month-long fasting period for Muslims who are only allowed to eat after sunset.

Gonnella also said the anti-semitic abuse dished out to Israeli midfielder Yossi Benayoun when he played for Chelsea in Malaysia last year did not affect their decision.

The Malaysian Football Association apologised for the abuse suffered by Benayoun, who is now on loan at Arsenal.

"Yossi is a consummate professional... and he is used to the environment and he has been dealing with it all his career, and for us the prevailing reaction from all the supporters in Malaysia was one of love and passion for Arsenal Football Club and I have no doubt that will override."

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