Arsenal’s pre-season campaign got underway in earnest yesterday as the squad took on a Malaysia XI in the first friendly of our Far East tour. A relatively strong side started the game, captained by Thomas Vermaelen, and with a midfield featuring the stringy, unfamiliar figure of a fit Abou Diaby. Andre Santos played in the front three. I could not love that man any more.
The team, suffering from both the rustiness and the oppressive heat, actually went in at half-time 1-0 down after a cracking long-range strike from Azmi Muslim beat a stranded Vito Mannone.
The second half saw a raft of changes. Alex Song took both the armband and control of the midfield, and it was his pass that set Nico Yennaris away to square for Thomas Eisfeld to tuck in a late equaliser. There was even time for a winner, with Chuks Aneke’s deflected strike deceiving the keeper after a neat one-two with Ignasi Miquel. Video highlights are available here. The squad have now flown on to China, where they will play against Manchester City in a showpiece game on Saturday.
There’s very little to gleam from a game so early on in our preparation, but it must be a terrific experience for the likes of Eisfeld, Aneke and Miquel to be spending this time in and around the first-team. Whilst we all clamour for signings, the emergence of young talent from within the squad is an important tradition of the club, and one we should look to preserve. Speaking of young talent, I was particularly struck by the performance of Ryo Miyaichi yesterday. The Japanese winger was a constant threat from the left flank, and looks to have matured significantly during his time at Bolton.
Whether Ryo stays at Arsenal this season or heads out on loan again will depend largely on who else arrives. All the chat at the moment is about Spanish midfielder, Santi Cazorla. It’s an interesting one. Cazorla was one of two players (Juan Mata being the other) earmarked to replace Cesc Fabregas last summer. In both instances, Arsenal were financially outmuscled. Mata ended up across London at Chelsea, whilst Cazorla remained in Spain with moneybags Malaga.
However, in the intervening twelve months, the fountain of oil money that funded the Malaga revolution has seemingly dried up. The likes of Cazorla, Ruud van Nistelrooy and, crucially, the Spanish taxman have all gone unpaid. Understandably, the two-time European Championship winner wants out.
It’s hard to know just how real our reported interest is. The player’s camp might be stoking the fire in order to force Malaga in to paying Cazorla the money he is owed. Equally, Arsene might genuinely be moving to snare a quality player on the cheap. I hope the latter is true: Cazorla would be a terrific signing, and add a much needed option in the central attacking midfield position as well as in wide areas.
Of course, half the time we have to be more worried about keeping the players we have, which is why it’s such terrific news that Laurent Koscielny has signed a new long-term contract. His improvement last season was dramatic, and this is due reward.
Till next time.