Matt Turner is having quite the summer. Within weeks of signing Arsenal, the club of his heart, he is back on American soil and representing his new team in front of friends and family. But with the season just weeks away and a place to fight for with club and country, there is no time for sentimentality. Turner may be living a dream, but he is focused on the professional reality.
“I’ve kind of put that fandom in the rearview mirror,” Turner tells The Athletic. “There were moments when I thought to myself, ‘Oh, wow, this is really cool, storybook stuff, blah blah blah’. But now that I’m here, I just see that these guys all want to win — they’re all football players just like myself.”
When Turner was presented with his Arsenal shirt at London Colney, his wife shed a tear. It would be easy for him to caught up in the emotion, too. Instead, his early days at Arsenal have been characterized by more practical concerns. “Being there in the locker room with everybody, I don’t think I had any of that sort of shock of, ‘Oh my god, I’m actually here!’,” he explains. “It was more just like, ‘OK, where can I sit on the bus? Who am I going to hang out with?’. This is my first ‘real’ time changing locker room so, even if it wasn’t for Arsenal, the only things that I was a little worried about were normal things. It’s like when you’re in high school and you change school. Just normal stuff!”
Then there’s the on-field adaptation to consider. Turner knew that going from MLS to the Premier League would present a challenge, but admits he was nevertheless surprised by the step up in quality.
“For the first couple of days of training, I was catching up to the speed of things,” he explains. “I had probably one down day, with a bit of shock at the speed and the smartness with which players press, the consistency with which they finish, the speed of the ball, the areas that they put the ball. I knew it was going to be fast. But it’s the intelligence and the consistency that stand out.”
Turner has been regarded as an excellent shot-stopper for some time. His greatest challenge was always going to be coping with the ball-playing responsibilities manager Mikel Arteta and coach Inaki Cana place on their goalkeepers.
“I thought it was going to be a lot easier than it has been to adjust to it,” says Turner. “I thought, ‘Oh, I’m really good at X, Y, and Z, and that means that it’ll translate’. No: it takes a lot of hard work and dedication, and a bit of adjusting some technical things in order to have success.
Fortunately for Turner, once he was over the initial shock, he swiftly began making the necessary adjustments to his game. “The adaptation was pretty quick,” he says. “After the first day, I started putting together some good performances in training.”
“And then after that, I’ve been doing pretty well ramping things up — understanding the gameplay here a bit more, and what they expect from their goalkeeper. So overall, it’s been a really positive start to pre-season.”
Being back home will be something of a relief for Turner, who has undergone “a lot of life changes happening all at once”. Although his sisters attended the game against Baltimore against Everton, his parents are over in London helping his wife care for their newborn son. There have been other cultural hurdles to clear — driving on the other side of the road for one.
Fortunately, Turner appears to have quickly fit into the squad. The question of where he could sit on the bus was answered by Arsenal’s honorary American, Rob Holding. “Rob might as well be American anyway,” laughs Turner. “He’s been huge for me. I remember walking down the aisle of the bus and Rob said, ‘Hey Matty, just sit right here!’. Rob, Kieran Tierney, Aaron Ramsdale and Ben White have been the guys I’ve probably hung out with most now. I don’t have a car yet in England, so Rob drove me to and from training when we were back at Colney. It’s really nice to get into a little bit of a groove and a group.”
The warm welcome is helping Turner to 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 conceited, but I have a very loud personality. I’m humble, but I like to chit-chat!”
When Arsenal did their due diligence on Turner, something they were told repeatedly was that he had an infectious, positive nature. “I’m really happy with him and the way he’s settled in,” Arteta told the media in Baltimore. “He’s an extraordinary character — a lot of personality and he’s great at what we want.”
Even the players who only joined training last week have picked up on Turner’s natural exuberance. “I haven’t seen him a lot, because he’s training with the goalkeeper coach,” says Granit Xhaka. “But as a person? Very, very positive. Very kind as well. Great personality.”
Perhaps that positivity is an important facet in a goalkeeper — especially one who, initially at least, is likely to spend considerable time on the bench. Arsenal have five goalkeepers in the tour squad, with a sixth — Karl Hein — recovering from injury in London. The old stereotype of the “goalkeepers union” exists for good reason. Somewhat separated from the outfield players, the keepers rely upon each other for both competition and support.
Healthy relationships, then, are key. “It’s so important,” says Turner. “No one understands what it’s like to be a goalkeeper, besides a goalkeeper — somebody who’s been through it, somebody who’s succeeded, somebody who’s failed in the same types of moments. So you have to have a level of respect for each other, which we do all across the board. And in that goalkeeper locker room, there’s a small army of us now at the club!
“So we all have that respect for each other, we all push each other. And that’s a really good feeling. As a goalkeeper, you’re always living 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 tough, psychologically. And that’s why you have to rely on the people around you.”
Ramsdale and Turner have already struck up a good report. “I’ve worked with Aaron closely now for a couple of days since he’s been back,” says the US international. “and he’s a great guy. We are developing that understanding of each other. The relationship’s going to be great, and we’re gonna push each other to become really good goalkeepers.”
At 28, Turner is one of the older players in the squad, and hopes to be a sounding board for Arsenal’s array of young talents: “Being 28 in this locker room at Arsenal is like being a dinosaur!”
Turner made his debut in a 5-3 friendly win against Nurnberg last week. “I was pushing myself in that game to catch up to speed with the model and the way they want goalkeepers to play,” he says. “I thought I did a pretty good job keeping the ball, playing out from the back.
“You never want to concede any goals but two pretty good goals — a bit of swazz on the first and a good finish on the second. Goals are going to happen — you’ve got to control what you can, look at the video, see what you can do better, and hopefully that’s a building block for better performances to come. I was pleased overall.”
He’ll have been more pleased with the clean sheet against Everton. Turner was largely untested, but showed smart reactions on a couple of occasions to keep Frank Lampard’s team at bay. Each save or involvement was accompanied by loud chants of “USA!” from an Arsenal-dominated Maryland crowd.
Turner, who will fight it out with Zack Steffen for the USMNT’s No 1 jersey at this year’s World Cup, is proud to be part of a generation of American talents making an impact in Europe — especially given his unconventional path to the top. Turner did not even play football until he was 14 years old, and was not selected in the MLS Superdraft when he was up for grabs in 2016.
“It’s really nice to be part of that group, especially given my background — my history of how I came through the ranks of football,” he says. “It shows people that it’s possible to do something late and figure it out. And if you love it enough, and master it, good things will happen.”
He now knows he could come up against international colleagues such as Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams in the Premier League.
“I’ll love that,” he beams. “And I hope that American soccer fans all over the country can see that and also love it, because I think it’s really, really cool. When I used to wake up and watch the Premier League, there weren’t that many Americans playing at the time. Now you have the opportunity to watch so many Americans playing in one of the most successful leagues. So to show that the pathway is possible, it’ll only continue to grow the game. And obviously, with the World Cup in 2026 coming to the US, it’s a really exciting time to be an American soccer player.”
There’s even the prospect of coming up against England, and perhaps 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 that I could compete,” he says. “So I’m going to take this pre-season — every opportunity I get to step on the field — and play to the best of my ability, push hard in training, learn, grow, adapt. And I’m going to enjoy it.”
(Top photo: David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)