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Reflections on Arsenal’s Preseason
The Emirates Cup has officially come to an end and while Arsenal still have one more preseason friendly away at Valencia the conclusion of the Emirates Cup more or less concludes our preseason. After starting off at Underhill, Arsenal worked hard in Austria, playing and winning two matches before taking a quick detour to Hannover to grab another win before heading back to London for the Emirates Cup. Six games in total, five wins, one draw and a cup. While these were ultimately matches that counted for nothing and the Emirates Cup is hardly a distinguished piece of silverware, the past several weeks’ events should have gotten the lads in great shape, both physically and mentally, for the season ahead. All in all the last few weeks have shown real promise and have given us a lot to be excited about and a few things to worry about as well before heading into the new season.
First, Samir Nasri breaking his leg in a training session was less then ideal. A player who had a fantastic debut season and played in over forty matches for Arsenal will surely be missed over the first couple of months. He really started to come into his own half way through the season. He grew physically and played a crucial part in Arsenal securing a top-four finish. His absence will surely be a huge loss to the squad. As tragic as it was to lose such a talented player, the return of Tomas Rosicky and the continued progress of Aaron Ramsey in central midfield should be able to mitigate Samir’s absence. In addition, it appears the injury was not bad as first expected and, with any luck, he will be back in training relatively soon.
Second, Arsenal will score goals. The media have made much too much negative fuss over the sale of Adebayor to Manchester City. This fuss has some fans demanding we bring in another striker, but I believe the preseason has shown we are set in attack. In our new 4-3-3 formation, we can accommodate more of our attacking players and create more fluid movement going forward. Arshavin, van Persie, Bendtner and Eduardo have all been banging in goals for fun so far. Nick had some great displays in Austria and Germany while van Persie has been solid throughout. Eduardo looks dangerous every time he touches the ball and Arshavin is, simply, a game winner. With these four plus the pacy Walcott and Vela interchanging and playing up top, goals will not be hard to come by. In addition, our midfield will boast the talent of Fabregas along with the likes of Rosicky and Nasri. The ability of all three of these players to pick out a pass and come back deep to take possession and distribute the ball will prove to be integral to balancing Arsenal’s attack. As the Emirates Cup has shown, the ability of our forwards to interchange and our midfield to drive up in support will produce countless chances and plenty of goals.
Third, and certainly a worry, Arsenal still appear to have major defensive problems. The sale of Kolo Toure was a step in the right direction. For the amount of money City offered it was a great move, especially considering Kolo’s recent defensive record. The arrival of Vermaelen certainly does seem promising but unfortunately our new Belgian defender had to miss out on this weekend’s action due to a slight hamstring problem. According to some reports, he now seems set to miss out on the season opener at Goodison. Perhaps he will turn out to be the answer we have been searching for in defense. Regardless, over the preseason the Arsenal defense has once again been split too easily. On more than one occasion, our high line has been caught square and, subsequently, broken easily. In the earlier matches, we were saved by our opposition’s inability to finish, but, as we saw on Saturday against Atletico, talented players will make us pay for lapses in concentration, especially in the Premier League. Someone in the back line needs to act like a leader and start to organize the defense or we are in for another long season. Even more worrying however is our constant inability to defend set pieces. Arsenal certainly lack height but there is no excuse for failing to clear simple balls and leaving players unmarked. Arsene Wenger must find a way to sort out this area before the trip to Goodison Park. For two full seasons now we have been absolutely shocking at defending set pieces. Perhaps we need a bigger, more physical defender in there, but, whatever it is that we need, it must be taken care of soon. No team, no matter how great they are going forward, will win major honors defending simple corners and set pieces the way Arsenal do.
Finally, Arsenal look to have more strength in depth than at the start of last season. The whole squad will be a year older and a year wiser. For Diaby, Song, Denilson, and Bendtner last season was really their first real season as major players in the Premier League. They all will certainly have grown from that experience. Song and Nick both kicked on towards the end of last season and both seem to be on track going into the start of this one. Denilson, Diaby, and Djourou will all provide great depth from the bench after last season’s growth. Moreover, some of the kids will be ready to make further strides into the first team this season, leaving us stronger and deeper than previously. Gibbs showed at the end of last season what an asset he can be. His experiences from last campaign, both good and bad, will only have made him stronger. Aaron Ramsey looks like a man now. No one doubted the Welshman’s talent last season, but, physically, he just didn’t look to be on the level. After watching Aaron in preseason, he looks sharper, stronger and more determined to make his mark on the squad this season. The same goes for Fran Merida, who displayed his talent and ability in the Emirates Cup. He is another player who featured last season but now looks to have gained a bit of presence since then. Lastly, there is everyone’s favorite, Jack Wilshere. After showing potential last season, Jack absolute delighted Arsenal fans throughout this preseason, culminating in an absolutely magical game and a half at the Emirates Cup, where he was, without a doubt, the Player of the Tournament. Jack certainly looks ready to kick on and that that can only be a good thing for Arsenal.
With just two weeks to go until we open our league account at Everton, the boss certainly has some things to think about from this past week. The emergence of some of our younger talents as well as the return of both Eduardo and Rosicky will certainly help us deal with the loss of Adebayor and the temporary lay off from Samir Nasri. Alex Song certainly looks to have staked his claim to the defensive midfield position. He has been wonderful throughout the preseason and during the end of last season. I believe Song can be the player we lacked last season, however, Arsene will have some thinking to do about what happens when he goes to the ANC in December. This will certainly be worrying. Denilson just doesn’t look up to it, so, hopefully, the manager will think of something to do. The return of Patrick Vieira could be the answer, as he would be a player who would not only lift the squad and the fans, but someone who could both help Alex Song in his development, as well as deputize for him during his absence with the national team. Regardless, Arsenal do not seem far away from greatness. We are perhaps a bit short in a few areas but the boss now has the time and the money to address it and I believe he will. Arsene knows this is a big season for the squad and for the fans. He will certainly be up to it and he will have his players up for it. Call me crazy, but after seeing the way our squad is starting to gel (and ignoring the fact no one in the team can head the ball away on set pieces) I just get the feeling this is going to be our year. Arsene set out with a mission this preseason to prove that his squad is capable of competing. He has certainly made a believer out of me.