Two preseason tournaments, two cups lifted. So far, so good. Goals aplenty, clean sheets, players looking fit and in form, youngsters impressing… Check, check, check, check…Oh and Cech… :D
With less than a fortnight before the season begins I thought I’d throw out some thoughts for discussion.
Pre-Season: Just how important is pre-season? They say you cannot win the title in the autumn but you sure can lose it. Well, it’s not even August yet so what CAN we take from what we’ve seen in July? It’s been such a short off-season (given our participation in the FA Cup and the early start to this new one) and we seem to have picked up right where we left off. Of course we have a bigger test in the national stadium against the league champions and their manager who (famously) claimed the Community Shield amongst his trophy count when he departed his first stint as manager over there in South London. How important is it to Gooners? What should we be looking for in that match, now only 6 days away?
Moreover, what can we take from the matches we have (perhaps) been watching? Over here, in the States, the coverage has been poor. At the moment I’m working on improving my internet and television service (to balance quality vs obscene pricing) but had no high-definition big screen access to the matches. I watched what I could (highlights from Singapore, streams from the Emirates Cup) and I know I’m feeling good about many elements in the team. The group seems united and happy, players look fit and ready and the competition for places which characterized the close of the season seems to be working a real treat. The only missing first choice player, Alexis Sanchez, has hardly been mentioned and will be only value-added when he returns to the squad. As it is, plenty of good players will be left out of the squad for that final pre-season friendly. We’ll have time to discuss it later in the week, but surely the group picked for the Community Shield will be revealing.
With that match in mind, how about a quick look up and down the squad.
Goalkeeper: Cech in, Wojciech off to Roma.
This one took me by surprise and I thought instead I’d be saying adios to my Colombian amigo, David Ospina. Arsene Wenger has said some nice things about Szczesny and how it’s only a loan. With an option to buy (according to reports) and a chance to shine with a Champions League club, I cannot see a way back for the guy who has made over 200 appearances for Arsenal. That was one killer cigarette there on New Years day in the showers at So’ton…
Speaking of amigos and good-byes… Have a happy day, James Bond… Those of us who defended our Pole in Goal surely feel a bit as if the rug has been tugged (from beneath us) but it’s hard to argue we’re not looking MUCH stronger in the position with Cech, Ospina and Martinez.
Defenders: Bellerin, Debuchy, Monreal, Gibbs, Mertesacker, Chambers, Koscielny, Gabriel. Those are 8 healthy defenders competing for 4 spots. Compared to a year ago, when the departure of Bacary Sagna opened two of those spots, Mertesacker was recovering (from being dropped) from his World Cup winning run and Koscielny was nursing two tender (Achilles) tendons, this seems a world of improvement. Debuchy and Chambers were new signings, Bellerin was strictly a youth team player and Nacho Monreal, nobody’s favorite at left back, was our 3rd choice center back?! Talk about your duct tape and baling wire… Wow. Some may still questions members of the group (I’ll go out on a limb and say that my 8th of the 8, at the moment at least, is Gibbs…) but at least we’ve got all of them fit and fighting with–and for–each other.
Midfielders: Here’s where it could get really interesting.
Francis Coquelin (who I noticed went straight to the dressing room after being subbed on Saturday) seems nailed on as our man ahead of the back line–at least in the tighter matches where a draw is a satisfactory result. Flamini, his backup down the stretch last season, could be the latest player from England looking to extend his contract in Istanbul, while our Captain, Mikel Arteta, got his extra year and appears the fillip. Do we need more in this area or can others, notably Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere, do what Santi Cazorla did and morph their attacking tendencies into more ball control and linking between back and front? Isaac Hayden, after a troubled year fighting injuries in the reserves, looked a decent enough deputy for Le Coq over the weekend and might just get himself fit enough to be the guy who can fill in here (and as a CB) if the injuries start taking a toll. Do we need to buy in this area or are we strong enough?
Further forward versatility plays a role too. Wilshere, Ramsey and Ozil all want to play that hole role, the #10, and many see shunting them out wide as a disservice to the players–if not outright stupidity on the part of the manager. I don’t see it this way at all. With such skilled players it’s all about movement and doing the small bits–sometimes without or away from the ball. Just a little defending to start counterattacks–or to just herd play towards our stronger areas; taking one touch (or a dummy) and moving play on rather than slowing play with dribbles or going stationary with 1 v 1s; a willingness to work overloads away from starting positions or switch areas with ones mates–these are the often unnoticed pieces which can turn fine players into great ones. Having all these guys fit opens so many options but they must give the manager reasons why they cannot be dropped. There’s a larger gap to some of the youngsters who might fill a spot down the road (Gideon Zelalem, 18 and Jeff Reine-Adelaide, 17) but no one will mind seeing them in some Capital One Cup outings. What about Tomas Rosicky–a guy almost twice the age of some of the younger ones– who also got another year on his contract? Can we prise one more “football year” out of him–or is he next summer’s Abou Diaby? He’s hurt now, but maybe can fill a spot if the others take a niggle or look sluggish.
Finally there are the two Alexes or Alexis or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alexis Sanchez. Will the one fill in for the other, early season at least, and is this the season the Ox can make a place on the pitch his own? With plenty of pace, power and technique he looks another one where injury and indecision (with his final ball or on the part of the manager) can be the only thing to hamper him. At still just 21 (he turns 22 on August 15) but with over 100 appearances for the club he’s got that great combination of youth and experience and will surely be given his chances. Now he must take them (rather than emulating his less successful mates…i.e., no cigs in the shower whilst contemplating what might have been)…
Forwards: Giroud, Walcott, Welbeck. Is that enough or should we spend (or promote)? With Walcott we’re being tantalized–again–by another round of “will he or won’t he” and “as soon as something happens we’ll let you know.” Just sign the ‘ting, I say. After all, any place you would hope to go will have the money so at least you won’t be leaving us in the lurch. Theo, in my opinion is a very useful player entering his best years (again we must cross our fingers regarding injuries), but isn’t quite in the position to hold the club to ransom. If he wants out, he will miss Arsenal more than we would miss him (as we’ve grown so accustomed to doing through the injuries). It would probably force our hand in the market–never a good thing with so few truly class strikers out there hoping for a move. More money means more pressure, which is why the names mentioned have swaths of supporters at their current clubs ready to see their backsides.
Giroud might fit that bill or at least not be every Gooner’s favorite donkey (or Shrek)… Clearly he brings a certain physicality to the proceedings and appears to be a late bloomer and looking an imposting presence and fit enough as the new season awaits. That picture from the pool in Singapore reminded me of my own days in the “buns of steel” calendars. Sorry, fellas, that was pre-internet and all the “hard-copies” were lost when our house burned down… :D
Consider me worried about Welbeck (re: injuries and taking his chances) but he might be another to fill in as the weather worsens and the matches start coming more steadily. Akpom and Iwobi (that was a well taken goal the other day) might be loan candidates but could also be kept around if needs must. Anybody else? (Surely somebody will mention Wellington Silva and/or Joel Campbell–please give a look at their goal totals on loan before their highlight reels…) Strikers, however, can sometimes make the leap from promising to clinical faster than the supporting characters. Sometimes it can be just that tiny bit of physical or psychological maturity which puts them over the edge. Then again, as maybe we saw with the return of Nicklas Bendter yesterday, sometimes that edge is really a shin…
My overall feeling about the squad is strong. I’m a good deal more concerned, in fact, with the support. How will Gooners react to the first hiccup, the first sign of frailty? You can’t win them all, but that’s not the expectation cycle these days, nor the happy ending people want when they plunk down for tickets at the Emirates. If we get past Chelsea in that last pre-season match, invincibility will be on everybody’s tongue (or touch-screen) even though it will still be preseason. Right now, I’d take no injuries, a well-fought draw and maybe a win in a penalty shootout. Happy face: Cech! Overall, I’m just happy we’ve got the football happening and glad we’ve got the long August, minus those pesky qualifiers, as well as all those ducats in the bank, just in case.
What say you, fellow Gooners? Are you ready for some football? Or should we recognize that a good pre-season is just that. Do we enjoy this fine fettle or fear failure (or at least a let down) as the matches turn from fun to ones which count?… Do we have gaps in the squad which need filling in the final month of the transfer market? What do you think of the big move in (Petr Cech) and the moves out (Szcz, Podolski, Flamini, Diaby, who am I forgetting?) What about the kids? Will we see another Bellerin this season or is there another Le Coq out there on loan who we’re all ignoring?
Have at it, please…