By Nick Lellenberg
Pre-season, as an experience, is incomparable to any other Arsenal-related one I’ve had before.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see the Arsenal win at White Hart Lane and the San Siro, but nothing comes close to ten days spent in southern Austria.
With a day’s entrance fee of only €3, each day begins with a 10am training session, usually lasting until 11:30 or 12, followed by an evening’s session, from 5-7pm.
As Arsenal usually has been training for two weeks prior to Austria, most of the pure fitness work is already done. As a result, those of us who’ve travelled are able to watch the team practice numerous drills, including short-sided games, 3 v 1 scenarios, and more basic crossing and finishing exercises.
Whereas last summer we were able to attend three friendlies, in Vienna, Szombathely (Hungary) and Hannover (Germany), this summer, due to the World Cup in South Africa, we only were able to attend two, both of which closer to Bad Waltersdorf than last summer.
In Graz, roughly 45 minutes away, and in Neusiedl am See, around 90, we were able to watch the squad put their practice into a competitive environment.
These friendlies, for the supporters, are also a nice way to see a new city or region - much like a European away trip to Barcelona or Prague, these games allow us to explore cities we might not otherwise have a ready excuse to visit.
The close proximity to Hungary and Slovenia allows for day trips, and, as I have done the past two summers, the potential to witness first and second qualifying round Champions League and Europa League action.
The dates for pre-season are highly anticipated amongst Arsenal supporters, some of which have travelled to every pre-season in Austria since the club began going there. As a result, pre-season in Austria is almost as much about the social aspect as it is about seeing Arsenal, with roughly 300 or so supporters descending upon the little spa village.
Restaurant and hotel proprietors welcome their Arsenal friends back into their establishments, sometimes for the first time, sometimes for what must seem like the thousandth - everyone is family again for another ten days and nights.
Last year when I went, there were four Arsenal America members attending -- this year it grew to eight. The late hours of the night until the early hours of the morning, between anywhere from 11pm to 4:30am, and over countless beers, is when pre-season truly makes its impact upon the Arsenal supporter.
» Part 1: Camp Overview
» Part 2: Autographs and Impressions
Nick Lellenberg has been Arsenal fan for six years and is a founder of the Boston Gooners. This was his second visit to Arsenal's training camp in Austria.Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source