Arsenal to roll out their big guns
English Premier League powerhouses Arsenal are promising to bring their strongest squad when they return to Hong Kong after a 17-year absence.
Their match against domestic champions Kitchee at Hong Kong Stadium on July 29 will feature one of the world's hottest strikers, Dutchman Robin van Persie, the top scorer in the English Premier League with 26 goals in 28 matches so far, and four other 'marquee players'.
'There is a clause in the contract that guarantees Arsenal will bring five top players to Hong Kong,' said Kitchee president Ken Ng Kin, who is also the organiser of the match.
'They are sincere about this and are keen to bring their best players here.'
Tom Fox, chief commercial officer of the English club, also guaranteed the presence of Van Persie and other top players for their Asian tour.
'We will be bringing our first team squad to Hong Kong,' he said. 'These games form the foundation of our pre-season training. It is not a vacation. It is important the manager can get the players ready for the start of a gruelling season.
'Van Persie will definitely be part of the squad even if the Netherlands make it to the final of the European championship. He still has one year on his contract and the manager [Arsene Wenger] has made it clear he will do everything to keep the player [Van Persie] at the Emirates.'
The European championship final will take place in Kiev, Ukraine, on July 1 and according to Fox, there would still be time for the Arsenal players involved to take a break before joining the team's tour of Asia.
'We made a commitment to Asia last year and we were in Malaysia and Hangzhou, China. This year, we're already committed to playing in Beijing and Hong Kong. We are also negotiating to play one more game in Asia but nothing has been confirmed yet,' Fox said.
'We know we have many fans in Hong Kong and we look forward to connecting with them and, indeed, reconnecting with many of the old friends we met when we played here 17 years ago.'
But the Gunners officials warned that many of their young stars could be selected to play for Britain at the London Olympics from July 27 to August 12 and if that happened, they would be unavailable for the match in Hong Kong. Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsay, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere all stand a good chance of being picked by manager Stuart Pearce for the Olympic squad.
'But the bottom line is we will still bring a very strong squad here,' Fox said.
The organisers have yet to fix ticket prices as they are still holding discussions with potential sponsors. 'We need a budget of around HK$15 million to host the match and of course we don't want to go into the red,' Ng said. 'But we also want to fill the stadium so will keep ticket prices as low as possible.'
Arsenal will take on Premier League rivals Manchester City at the Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing on July 27 as part of celebrations for the opening of the London Olympic Games.