Matt Turner is having a great summer. A few weeks after signing Arsenal, the club of his heart, he is back on American soil and represents his new team in front of his friends and family. But with the season just weeks away and a place to fight for club and country, there’s no time for sentimentality. Turner may be living a dream, but he’s focused on professional reality.
“I kind of put that fandom in the rearview mirror,” Turner said. Athleticism. “There were times when I was like, ‘Oh wow, that’s really cool, storybook stuff, blah blah blah’. But now that I’m here, I just see these guys all want to win. – they are all football players like me.
When Turner received his Arsenal shirt at London Colney, his wife shed tears. It would be easy for him to get carried away by emotion, too. Instead, his early days at Arsenal were characterized by more practical concerns. “Being there in the locker room with everyone, I don’t think I had that kind of shock like, ‘Oh my god, I’m really here!'” he explains. “It was more like ‘Ok, where can I sit on the bus? Who am I going to hang out with?’ wasn’t for Arsenal, the only things I was a bit worried about were normal things. It’s like when you’re in high school and you change schools. Just normal stuff!”
Then there’s on-the-ground adaptation to consider. Turner knew moving from MLS to the Premier League would present a challenge, but admits he was surprised by the increase in quality nonetheless.
“During the first two days of training, I caught up with the speed of things,” he explains. “I probably had a slow day, with a bit of a shock at the speed and intelligence with which the players press, the regularity with which they finish, the speed of the ball, the areas where they put the ball. I I knew it was going to be fast, but it’s the intelligence and the consistency that stand out.
Turner has been considered an excellent shooter for some time. His biggest challenge was always going to be facing ball game manager Mikel Arteta and coach Inaki Cana setting up their goalkeepers.
“I thought it would be a lot easier than it was to adapt to it,” Turner says. “I thought to myself, ‘Oh, I’m really good at X, Y and Z, and that means it will translate’. No: it takes a lot of hard work and dedication, and a bit of adjusting some technical things to succeed.
Luckily for Turner, once the initial shock wore off, he quickly started making the necessary adjustments to his game. “The adaptation was pretty quick,” he says. “After the first day I started to perform well in training.”
“And then after that, I sped it up pretty good – understanding the gameplay here a little bit more and what they want from their goalkeeper. So overall it’s a start of pre- really positive season.
Being back home will be a relief for Turner, who has had “a lot of life changes happening at the same time”. Although his sisters attended the Baltimore game against Everton, his parents are in London to help his wife look after their newborn son. There were other cultural hurdles to cross – driving across the road for one.
Fortunately, Turner seems to have settled into the team quickly. Honorary Arsenal American Rob Holding answered when asked where he could sit on the bus. “Rob might as well be American anyway,” laughs Turner. “He was huge for me. I remember walking down the aisle of the bus and Rob said, “Hey Matty, sit down here!”. Rob, Kieran Tierney, Aaron Ramsdale and Ben White are probably the guys I’ve hung out with the most now. I don’t have a car in England yet, so Rob drove me to practice when we were back in Colney. It’s really nice to get into a groove and a band a bit.
The warm welcome helps Turner be himself. “It allows me to be more comfortable and show my personality a bit more,” he says. “That’s one of the great things about me – not to sound pretentious, but I have a really strong personality. I’m humble, but I like to chat!
When Arsenal did their due diligence on Turner, they were repeatedly told that he had an infectious and positive nature. “I’m really happy with him and how he’s settled in,” Arteta told media in Baltimore. “He’s an amazing character – lots of personality and he excels at what we want.”
Even players who only joined training last week noticed Turner’s natural exuberance. “I don’t see him much because he is training with the goalkeeping coach,” says Granit Xhaka. “But as a person? Very, very positive. Very nice too. Great personality.
Perhaps that positivity is an important facet in a goalkeeper – especially one who, initially at least, is likely to spend a lot of time on the bench. Arsenal have five goalkeepers in the Tour squad, with a sixth – Karl Hein – recovering from an injury in London. The old “goalkeeping union” stereotype exists for a reason. Somewhat separated from outfield players, goalkeepers rely on each other for competition and support.
Healthy relationships are therefore essential. “It’s so important,” Turner said. “No one understands what it’s like to be a goalkeeper except a goalkeeper – someone who’s been there, someone who’s been successful, someone who’s failed in the same types moments. So you have to have a level of respect for each other, which we do at all levels. And in that goalkeeping locker room, we are now a small army at the club!
“So we all have this respect for each other, we all push each other. And it’s a very good feeling. As a goalkeeper, you still live on that fence – if you fall one way, you’re a hero, and if you fall the other way, you could be the villain. It can be hard, psychologically. And that’s why you have to rely on the people around you.
Ramsdale and Turner have already formed a good relationship. “I have been working closely with Aaron for the past few days since his return,” the United States international said. “and he’s a great guy. We develop this mutual understanding. The relationship is going to be great and we are going to push each other to be very good goalkeepers.
At 28, Turner is one of the oldest players in the squad and hopes to be a sounding board for Arsenal’s array of young talent: “Being 28 in that dressing room at Arsenal is like be a dinosaur!”
Turner made his debut in a 5-3 friendly win over Nuremberg last week. “I pushed myself in this game to catch up with the model and the way they want goalkeepers to play,” he says. “I think I did a good job keeping the ball, playing from the back.
“You never want to concede goals, but two really good goals – a bit of swazz on the first and a good finish on the second. Goals are coming – you have to control what you can, watch the video, see what you can do better, and hopefully that’s a building block for better performance to come. I was satisfied overall.
He will have been happier with the clean sheet against Everton. Turner was largely untested but showed smart reactions a few times to keep Frank Lampard’s side at bay. Each backup or involvement was accompanied by loud chants of “USA!” of a Maryland crowd dominated by Arsenal.
Turner, who will battle with Zack Steffen for the USMNT No. 1 jersey at this year’s World Cup, is proud to be part of a generation of American talent making an impact in Europe, especially in given his unconventional journey to the top. Turner didn’t even play football until he was 14 and was not selected in the MLS Superdraft when he was up for grabs in 2016.
“It’s really nice to be part of this group, especially given my background – my story of how I came up the football ladder,” he said. “It shows people that it is possible to do something late and understand it. And if you love it enough and master it, good things will happen.
He now knows he could come up against fellow internationals such as Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams in the Premier League.
“I’m going to love this,” he beams. “And I hope American football fans across the country can see this and also like it, because I think it’s really, really cool. When I woke up and watched the Premier League, it there weren’t many Americans playing back then. Now you have the opportunity to see so many Americans playing in one of the top leagues. So to show that the path is possible, this doesn’t will only continue to grow the game. And obviously, with the 2026 World Cup coming to the United States, it’s a really exciting time to be an American football player.
There’s even the prospect of facing England, and possibly even Ramsdale, at the World Cup later this year.
But first, Florida – and more opportunities with Arsenal. “They wouldn’t have brought me here if they didn’t think I could compete,” he said. “So I’m going to take this pre-season – every opportunity I have to step onto the pitch – and play to the best of my abilities, push hard in training, learn, grow, adapt. And I’m going to to profit from. “
(Top photo: David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)