English Premier League's pre-season tournament will kick off in Singapore next July

Friendly soccer match between Singapore and Arsenal held at the National Stadium. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Friendly soccer match between Singapore and Arsenal held at the National Stadium. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Arsenal and Singapore national team taking photographs before the start of a friendly soccer match at the National Stadium. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Arsenal and Singapore national team taking photographs before the start of a friendly soccer match at the National Stadium. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Arsenal players pose for a team picture before the start of the UEFA Champions League Group D football match between Arsenal and Anderlecht at the Emirates Stadium in north London on Nov 4, 2014. The English Premier League’s (EPL) only pre-sea
Arsenal players pose for a team picture before the start of the UEFA Champions League Group D football match between Arsenal and Anderlecht at the Emirates Stadium in north London on Nov 4, 2014. The English Premier League’s (EPL) only pre-season football tournament is set to kick off at the Singapore Sports Hub next year, headlined by FA Cup winners Arsenal. -- PHOTO: AFP

The English Premier League’s (EPL) only pre-season football tournament is set to kick off at the Singapore Sports Hub next year, headlined by FA Cup winners Arsenal.

The Straits Times understands that a deal has been agreed upon for the new National Stadium to host the Barclays Asia Trophy in mid-July.

Whether Singapore continues to host the biennial competition beyond next year depends on British bank Barclays’ title sponsorship of the EPL, which ends at the end of the 2015/2016 season.

The Asia Trophy – the only EPL-affiliated competition held outside England – features three Premier League sides and a host team. It has been hosted in football-mad Asia every two years since 2003.

Hong Kong staged three of the six editions – including the last two – with Bangkok, Beijing and Kuala Lumpur among the other venues.

A Barclays UK spokesman declined to confirm Singapore’s hosting of the Asia Trophy, adding that an official announcement will be made in the “next few months”. 

Sources said Arsenal have confirmed their attendance at the inaugural Singapore staging, offering fans an up-close view of star players like Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Oezil and Jack Wilshere.

The Gunners, who boast a fervent following across the region, last played here in 1991, squaring off against fellow EPL giants Liverpool in a friendly at the old National Stadium. 

The Asia Trophy aims to export the English matchday feel, with EPL referees and television commentators also flown in to add to the experience.

Last year’s edition – won by EPL champions Manchester City – came under fire from players and officials as torrential rain led to poor pitch conditions at the Hong Kong Stadium.

With the tournament nearly called off, EPL chief executive Richard Scudamore had said that “pitch quality and pitch durability, sustainability and preparation” will be a key criteria for the next host.

The National Stadium’s patchy and sandy field has drawn its fair share of flak, but conditions have improved vastly since the calendar was cleared to allow the hybrid grass to grow.