WE all follow the Arsenal over land and sea (and Singapore)! We’ll follow the Arsenal unto victory!”
The passion of the chanting Gooners was rocking the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre in Singapore when suddenly “thunderbolts” cascaded across the island republic’s stunning night skyline.
The brilliant lights could not be more magical - after all, it was a fantastical moment for the Asian Arsenal fans who have been waiting for 10 of their first-team stars to descend onto the stage to launch the London club’s new 2015/16 away kit.
Just as the excitement reached fever pitch, the pulsating lights wove an intricate diamond design that transformed into a giant gold jersey with navy sleeves - the brand new Puma travelling gear for Arsenal.
But all eyes (sorry, Puma) were on the row of players standing on the sides: Mikel Arteta, Hector Bellerin, Santi Cazorla, Petr Cech, Mathieu Flamini, Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil, Wojciech Szczesny, Jack Wilshere and Gabriel.
The already frenzied fans simply went ballistic!
“The atmosphere tonight is electric,” Oliver Giroud greeted the Asian Gooners.
The Arsenal striker was touched by the strong turnout for the launch.
“This is a brilliant experience. I am really happy to meet some of our fans from Singapore and around Asia. It’s really inspiring to see how passionate and supportive our fans are here,” he told the screaming fans.
After a season specked with injury, club captain Mikel Arteta relished the love of the Arsenal supporters.
“From the moment we touched down the fans here have been fantastic. Hearing them chant for us and feeling the amazing atmosphere from the crowd was great, it definitely motivates us to perform at our best here.”
With its “Powered by Fans” campaign, Puma had been teasing fans with possible designs of the new Arsenal away kit for months and this official unveiling lived up to expectation.
“It’s a great looking shirt and I like the design which is quite different to the more traditional home shirt,” quipped Arteta.
Puma has reinterpreted its classic football graphic with art deco styling to create the diamond pattern around the front and back of the shirt which is trimmed with navy blue sleeves.
The goalkeeper kit is a darker offering, with two horizontal gold strikes across the top half of the shirt.
An evolution of Arsenal’s traditional away yellow and blue tones, the gold and navy strip is steeped in great history that many fans are hoping the club will repeat this coming season.
Gooner Jay K. reminisced about the 1997-1998 yellow and blue away kit which witnessed the Gunners’ epic victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford in March 1998 that kicked off a famous run of league victories, clinching Arsenal’s first title in seven years.
Malaysian C.C. Lim, who took a week’s leave to see his favourite club play in the Barclay Asia Trophy 2015 in Singapore, thought of the Arsenal’s away kit during their unbeaten season in 2003/04.
For most, however, the new away shirt evoked memories of the famous gold and navy “Sega” kit of 2001/2002 when Arsenal did the double.
The Gunners were unbeaten away from home and won the Premier League by a seven-point margin. They then beat Chelsea 2-0 (albeit in the home red and white strip) to clinch the FA Cup.
“We hope playing in gold this 2015/2016 season will bring us the same luck,” said Jay.
Giroud hopes the solid gold shirt will translate into a solid gold season for the Gunners too.
“I really like our new away kit. The gold colour is very striking and has been associated with some great Arsenal teams in the past,” he said.
If it was any indication, the new away strip saw Arsenal trouncing the Singapore Select XI 4-0 on their way to the final of the Barclay Asia’s Trophy tournament, when it was debuted in the club’s first game of their pre-season tour.
One who played a part in the victory, and one who many Gooners hope will grace the Arsenal kit for many more seasons, is the Emirate’s 2014/2015 breakout star, Hector Bellerin.
As the 20-year-old right back who had just signed a new contract until at least 2019 assured in an interview after the launch,
“For me, the job has just started. It was my first season playing for the first team and obviously I am not thinking about going anywhere else. I just want to cement my place in the first team, get more games and hopefully stay a long time.”
In spite of his shaky start as a cover for the injured Mathieu Debuchy, Bellerin has made a mark in the senior squad and in many a Gooner’s heart.
But, he is a product of Barcelona’s La Masia academy, which for many Arsenal supporters is a red alert after losing many of their stars, particularly Cesc Fabregas, to the Catalan giants.
Bellerin insisted he harbours no dream of returning to Bercelona like Fabregas any time soon.
“If I had wanted to play there I would have stayed there in the first place. The fact that I came to Arsenal means that I want to play here,” he said, admitting nonetheless that the fact Fabregas was a success in England was a motivation for him to join Arsenal.
Added Bellerin, who like Fabregas was spotted by Arsene Wenger while graduating through La Masia, his mind was made up to join Arsenal after personally meeting the gaffer at the Emirates Stadium the night before a match against Manchester United in May 2011.
“I had a really good experience at Barcelona but, at 16, the train came,” he said. “It was a hard decision but, as soon as the moment Arsenal said they wanted me and I chatted to the boss, saw the training ground, saw where I was going to live, I had it in my mind I was going to come.
“I didn’t doubt it. It was hard for the fact I had to leave my family and friends, my country, but I look back now. I’m really happy that I did it. I know the boss is a man who likes to bring up young players. I remember exactly the chat and that was the moment I decided to come.
“I knew if I was doing well he would give me the chance and that’s how it was. I’m really pleased he gave me the chances and the trust.”
Polite and humble, Bellerin said becoming a first-team regular last season was totally unexpected.
“If somebody told me at the beginning then I wouldn’t have believed them. I’m really happy with the way it went down, especially finishing the season with winning the FA Cup. It’s been a great year.”
Now with Debuchy back to take the right-back position, he vowed to continue working hard.
“When players come back, you don’t know really where you are going to stand. I think I just need to keep working hard and cement my place in the first team.
I am still very young and I knew the club needed some experience so I thought wherever I was going to play - whether in the reserves or first-team - I was going to work hard for a place in the team.”
Another thing he is sure to be working hard on is to keep his 40m club sprint record which he wrested from Theo Walcott last year.
“There are a few players trying to get the record off me and they have been working extra hard over the summer to do the test again,” he said with a laugh.
Fans online have even been clamouring for the “flying Catalan”, as some have dubbed him, to race the world’s fastest man Usain Bolt.
“Well, I’ve been working hard during the summer and the whole of last season, training the power in my legs and my body. They (the other Gunners) are probably going to be happy to beat my last record but don’t know I have it in my pocket now,” noted Bellerin with quiet confidence.