Arsenal Pre-Season: Round-Up

– Shivam Brijesh Singh

The final pre-season match against Legia Warsaw ended 6-5 in favor of the Gunners, and one would not be blamed for wondering if the score line should have been either 7-5 or a tie breaker at 6-6. As it turns out,  it was no tennis game but a football ‘practice’ match to enable Arsene to select the best eleven for the trip to Anfield. In the first three matches, Arsenal scored 11 goals and conceded 0; the next three fixtures, against tougher opponents, saw the team score 10 goals and concede 8. This is clearly an ominous sign ahead of the new season, and every Arsenal fan will be scouting the rumor mills for more defenders linked with Arsenal.

Last season, the Gunners were in contention till the very end, only for the leaky defense to let them down when it mattered the most. Our first choice back five was Almunia-Sagna-Gallas-Vermaelen-Clichy; this season, we may end up with our first team back line as Almunia-Sagna-Koscielny/Djourou-Vermaelen-Clichy. Is there an improvement in this department? If you think there is, it’s time to look into yourself; all that one can only see is a regression. The club has lost Sol Campbell, William Gallas, Mikael Silvestre and Philippe Senderos, while bringing in only Laurent Koscielny from Lorient. The Polish defender is a typical Wenger signing, and the latter must be hoping that Laurent adapts to the Premier League as quickly as Vermaelen did. He has had a few decent outings, but sterner tests are surely yet to come for the new lad.

On the other hand, the goalkeeping conundrum doesn’t seem to end. The early signs shown by Almunia and Fabiansky do not inspire much confidence. What makes things worse is that it seems the whole defense is following their lead. There is something in them which Wenger sees and others don’t, else how do you explain Wenger not giving many chances to Mannone? Moreover, while many believe that a Akinfeev or a Joe Hart is the solution, I would beg to differ. The squad need someone like Schwarzer or Shay Given, old experienced heads who will give 2-3 years to the team, which would be just about right for young Szczesny.

Apr. 06, 2010 - Barcelona, Spain - epa02106204 Spanish goalkeeper Manuel Almunia of Arsenal looks dejected after FC Barcelona scored one of their goals during the Champions League quarter final soccer match between Barcelona and Arsenal London at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, north-eastern Spain, 06 April 2010.

Goalkeepers – Arsenal’s Achilles Heel

Fans know (or is it only a wish??!!) that Wenger is on the lookout for more defensive signings, but it really is a nerve racking wait for the them, especially with the Anfield trip looming large. One can argue that the cover in front of the back 4 was not the best with the absence of Song, Diaby and Denilson. It may be true to an extent, but conceding five goals against an opponent, which surely would not be able to survive staying in the Premier League, suggests that a lot of work needs to be put in to shore up the defense.

On the offensive side, though, we have been pretty good. Nasri has been playing like a man possessed; he must be thanking his stars for not being on the plane to South Africa. Wilshere and Jay Emmanuel Thomas have been good, and so was Vela. The new signing, Chamakh has been impressive. He looks good on the ball and has gelled well in the setup that we play. He looks more of a goal scorer than his strike counterparts. He holds the ball well, has shown some neat touches, and will provide a lot more aerial threat than Bendtner did. Let us hope that the movie has a lot more material than the promotional.

Emirates Cup Arsenal v Milan 31/07/2010 Marouane Chamakh (Arsenal)  Photo Roger Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

Chamakh – adding a new dimension to Arsenal’s attacks

Nasri staged a remarkable show in pre-season, where he played in the floating role. This is slightly different from playing ‘just off the striker’. The role of a floater is not very different from that of what Ozil performed for Germany and Sniejder has done so successfully for Inter; even Messi plays a similar role for Barcelona. These players are given an almost undefined and free role. The purpose of these players in the system is to aid the forwards in pressing high up the pitch, while also being the playmaking pivot in attack. But does the team possess the defensive soundness to allow the freedom to Cesc or to Nasri? Is the answer a ‘yes’ or will we know the ‘no’ the hard way?

Chamakh’s arrival could give Wenger a problem of plenty. Although Bendtner had a pretty good season, he might have to be relegated to the bench, when fit that is. The fact that Arsenal normally play a 4-2-3-1, which changes to 4-2-1-3 when attacking, would create a dilemma of sorts. Which of Van Persie or Chamakh will play up front? Robin has played wide on the left, first with Henry and then with Adebayor. This leaves Arshavin and Nasri fighting for the spot on the right, in case Wenger doesn’t play the latter as a second central midfielder alongside Song; though playing on the wings curbs some of the talent that Nasri possesses, it still gives him a lot of freedom to move about. The lack of out-and-out winger may still be felt, with Walcott being the only real contender. All other wingers are central attacking midfielders turned into wingers, be it Nasri, Rosicky or Arshavin.

However, these permutations and combinations will be rendered useless if the usual injuries start to kick in. The signs are already there, with Song, Diaby and Denilson all poised to miss the opening fixture at Anfield. This would leave Wenger short of options in the engine room, and he may be forced to hand the 18-year-old duo of Wilshere and Frimpong a rare start. While the duo is extremely inexperienced, they have been playing together for the past six to seven years, and this was evident in their midfield partnership in the pre season games. Frimpong needs a special mention for his beastly performances in the pre season, and Wilshere has been making the headlines on a regular basis, and for the right reasons at that. In fact, some consider that one of the reasons for Joe Cole being overlooked could possibly be down to Wilshere’s potential. Gooners can only hope that the enthusiasm and the determination to prove that they belong to the first team would compensate for the lack of experience.

July 31, 2010 - London, United Kingdom - epa02268729 Arsenal's Emmanuel Frimpong (L) competes for the ball with AC Milan's Mathieu Flamini during an Emirates Cup soccer match in London, Britain, 31 July, 2010. The match finished 1-1.

Frimpong – the new Alex Song?

More encouragement for the youngsters comes in the form of call ups to the senior team for five members of the youth set up. Emmanuel Frimpong joins the loanees of last season – Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Henri Lansbury and Havard Nordtveit – in being named in the senior squad, while Craig Eastmond, who was drafted into the senior team in the final part of last season, has now officially been included.

A worrisome factor is the performance (or lack of it) of Arshavin. His talent is beyond question as evinced by his previous visits to Anfield, but everyone can see that he doesn’t make the best use of it. He is one of the most senior players in the team, and has to shoulder further responsibility. Many pages have been filled detailing his non-committal attitude on the pitch. It is about time that Wenger gives him a kick on his back side, and asks him to buckle up and play to his full potential.

Apr 21, 2009 - Liverpool, United Kingdom - Premier League: Liverpool 4 v 4 Arsenal.Arsenal's ANDREY ARSHAVIN fourth goal celebration Photo via Newscom

Arshavin – Time to deliver more!

To conclude, it’s time to bid farewell to Eduardo. It is sad to see such a massive talent falling prey to injury. All Arsenal fans would undoubtedly have never been so sad to see such a gem leave, except perhaps when Thierry Henry left the club. They will hope that the ‘Crozilian’ gets back to his predatory self at Shakhtar, and will always be behind him wherever he plays.

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