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Friendlies

FC Koln 0 – 4 Arsenal: Podolski off the mark as Arsenal show off strength in depth

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Pre-season, Friendlies | 216 Guns

FC Koln 0 – 4 Arsenal (Vermaelen 5, Podolski 15 (pen), 43, Gervinho 62)
Match Report | Highlights

Arsenal’s first goal had all the hallmarks of Steve Bould…
That corner routine was classic Arsenal – near post flick on from one centre-back to the other.  Clearly the new assistant has been drilling them on the training ground.

Lukas Podolski looked good in that number nine shirt …
It had been widely assumed Podolski’s squad number was yet to be announced because he was waiting for Robin van Persie’s number 10 shirt to become available.  Perhaps we’re merely waiting to sanction the sale of Park Ju-Young before handing him the number nine shirt he wore in such style yesterday.  Podolski began the match on the left-flank, but showed a real willingness to tuck inside, and a goalscorer’s instinct to net twice against his former club.  The first was a typically German (ie. accurate) penalty, and the second a sweeping finish after a great one-two with Kieran Gibbs.

 Olivier Giroud wore 12…
…and yet is every inch a traditional number 9.  This guy is huge, and yesterday his hold-up play and interlinking was fantastic, whilst slightly sharper shooting would have seen him grab a goal or two.  I was hugely encouraged by the two new strikers, and Theo Walcott’s constant threat from the right gave us a consistent attacking threat.

Santi Cazorla is a class act…
…just as we knew he would be.  As expected, he played at the tip of the central midfield trio, spraying passes to either flank with consummate ease.   I don’t want to heap pressure on the lad, but something tells me we will look back on his signing as one of the steals of the summer.

The Ox’s evolution to central midfield is well and truly underway…
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has made almost all his pre-season appearances as a central midfielder.  Despite impressing as a winger last season and at the European Championships, it’s clear Arsene likes the idea of deploying him as a deep-lying midfielder, where his footballing intelligence and driving runs can be put to more frequent use.  It’ll be interesting to see where he is deployed when the season proper gets underway.

Gervinho has had a fantastic pre-season…
I’ve been one of the Ivorian’s sternest critics, but I take my hat off to him: he’s knuckled down and been one of the best performers of our pre-season period.  There was the trademark terrible miss yesterday, but there was also a fantastic goal and some very effective dribbling.  Signs of improvement and adaptation?  Let’s hope so.

Our squad looks to have a lot more depth…
Although the line-up changed almost entirely at half-time, there was little discernible difference in quality between the two teams.  We have options all over the pitch, and if we can keep our players fit then we certainly have a squad capable of coping with the rigours of a long season.  There are still issues to resolve, but there is an overwhelming sense of optimism around the club.  Roll on Saturday.

Cazorla makes more sense than Sahin

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Pre-season, Friendlies | 754 Guns

Hello folks.  Apologies for radio silence.  Serves me right for trying to use a radio to write a blog.

In the time since we last spoke, Arsenal rounded off the Asia tour with a 2-0 defeat to Manchester City, and a 2-2 draw with Kitchee SC.  The latter through the Kitchee sink at us, and exposed almost as many defensive frailties as our Premier League rivals.  There’s much work to do, and it’s worrying that only one official pre-season fixture remains in which to tighten up at the back and introduce the new strike pair of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud.

There were, however, some positives on the tour.  We’re used to the defensive problems, but there were some less familiar sights, such as Gervinho being efficient and productive, and Abou Diaby not limping.  Now we return to London and the hard work continues – away from the pitch, too.

In recent days we’ve been heavily linked with two Spain-based midfielders: Malaga’s Santi Cazorla, and Real Madrid’s Nuri Sahin.  It’s well known that Arsene is a huge admirer of both players: he attempted to sign Cazorla from Villarreal last summer, and six or so years ago named Sahin as the world’s best teenage talent.

The need for Cazorla is clear.  Despite selling both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri last summer, Arsene’s didn’t buy a direct replacement in the form of an attacking midfielder, choosing instead to rely on Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky across the course of the season, with mixed results.  Cazorla would fill that gap and add an extra dimension to the side – and, at a reported £16m, be an absolute bargain.

At first glance, the signing of Sahin would be a little odd.  He plays a deeper role than Cazorla, without being a destroyer.  It’s an area in which Arsenal are seemingly well-stocked.  If there is anything in this story – that of Arsenal pursuing a left-footed, box-to-box creative midfield player, then one has to wonder just how worried Arsene Wenger is about the amount of playing time he’ll get out of Jack Wilshere this season.

If a deal for Sahin was imminent, I doubt the player would have flown to America with the rest of the Real Madrid squad.  There seems to be a significantly bigger fire at the heart of all this Cazorla smoke, and Malaga’s financial troubles could hold the key to us nicking their prize asset on the cheap.  I had a brief chat with a journalist from Malaga Hoy last night, and he told me that people around the club accept that the player has decided his future is with Arsenal; it’s now just down to the two clubs to reach an agreement.  Whether or not that’s possible will depend on how desperate Malaga are to bail themselves out – I can’t see Arsenal bidding much more than the current £16m on the table.

Arsene has already confirmed that messrs Park, Bendtner and Squillaci will soon be on their way, and there are a couple more who could face the chop.  And that’s without mentioning the precarious contract situations of Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott, and even Alex Song.  It’s going to be a busy few weeks…

Malaysia conquered, it’s on to China – with Cazorla in tow?

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Pre-season, Friendlies | 41 Guns

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.

A strange day: Arsenal win a trophy & Gervinho scores

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Pre-season, Friendlies | 455 Guns

Markus Liebherr Memorial Cup

ARSENAL 1 – 0 ANDERLECHT
Video highlights: Henri Lansbury ’34

ARSENAL 1 – 1 SOUTHAMPTON
Video highlights: Jay Rodriguez ’31; Gervinho ’35

I suspect in your head, when you pictured the next man to raise a cup aloft and end our trophy drought, you never for a moment believed that man would be Johan Djourou.  However, Arsenal are Markus Liebherr Memorial Cup Champions.  Perhaps we should take that, and our Emirates Cup victories of 2007, 2009 and 2010 and use it to plug the gaping void after ‘FA Cup 2005′ in the roll-call of silverware that lines the interior of the Emirates Stadium.

Obviously, in real terms, our victory in a friendly competition where we didn’t even play a full ninety minutes against a single opponent doesn’t mean all that much.  But if winning is a habit, then this could one day prove to be a helpful step in the right direction for the many kids involved yesterday.

The side that took to the field in the first 45 against Anderlecht was:

Martinez – Jenkinson Boateng Miquel Gibbs (c) – Yennaris Eastmond Lansbury – Eisfeld Chamakh Watt

Arsenal won the game thanks to a solitary goal, which showed off the qualities of both Carl Jenkinson and Henri Lansbury.  Jenkinson showed good tenacity to drive to the byline, and then demonstrated why I’ve long insisted he’s the best crosser at the club with a devilish ball which Lansbury arrived to thump home.  Whenever he’s played for the first team, Henri has shown a knack for arriving in the box at the crucial point, and this was no different.  Personally, I hope he gets a long overdue chance in the first-team this season.  His loan spell at West Ham was something of a disappoint, but a player with his style was never going to be the first name on the teamsheet in a Sam Allardyce side.  We could do a lot worse than to keep him involved in 2012/13.

In the second game we had a more experienced side on the field:

Mannone – Eastmond Djourou (c) Bartley Meade – Coquelin Lansbury Ebicilio – Santos Gervinho Aneke

Arsenal fell behind as Jay Rodriguez made himself an instant hero with the Saints fans by nodding home on his first appearance at St. Mary’s.  It was a good cross but new assistant Steve Bould won’t be happy about how easily Rodriguez rose between our two centre-backs.  With the games lasting only 45 minutes, there wasn’t much time to level, but Gervinho managed it with a corker.  He sprinted to the byline and cut back inside before firing past the keeper.  The confidence with which he took his goal was almost as surreal a sight as Djourou raising a trophy.  Gervinho has duped us with these pre-season antics before, netting twice on his first appearance in a friendly last season, but hopefully this is an early sign that he may have a more successful second season than his first.  A quick glance at the video reveals that our supposed left-back, Andre Santos, was in the six yard box.  A poacher’s instinct from the tubby Brazilian.

The game went to penalties, and Southampton emerged victorious, but it didn’t matter: the trophy was already ours.

So, Arsenal are back.  Next week the remainder of the squad will return to training before we fly to Malaysia in around a week’s time.  Something tells me the coming days will tell us a lot about the make-up of our squad for next season.

Friendly Fun + Grimandi’s Confession

Posted on by GilbertoSilver Posted in 2012-13 Pre-season, Friendlies | 694 Guns

Incredibly, Arsenal are already back in action.  As far as I’m aware we’re the first Premier League side to play any kind of friendly this summer.  And if that weren’t enough, we don’t just face off against one side today, but two: after 45 minutes against Anderlecht, we will play a further 45 against hosts and top flight newcomers Southampton.

It’ll be a very unfamiliar Arsenal side.  First-teamers Gervinho, Chamakh, Djourou, Santos and Gibbs are all included, as well as the likes of Coquelin, Bartley, Lansbury and Mannone.  The rest of the squad will be made up with youth-team players.

It’s possible triallist M’Baye Niang will be given a run out.  If you don’t know too much about Caen’s teenage forward, you can read French Football Weekly’s profile of him here.  Caen have confirmed that Niang is on trial at Arsenal with their permission, and as yet no bids for him have been received, despite reported interest from Francophiles Newcastle.

Arsenal.com aren’t showing the match live but will be tweeting updates @Arsenal.  If I can get a stream working I’ll try and do some stuff over on @Gunnerblog too, but it may be I have to wait to see highlights on the Sunday.  It’ll be a fairly low-key affair: Arsenal don’t play another friendly for 10 days, and presumably we will use the opportunity mainly to help these players build their stamina.

Presumably when we face Southampton we might get a glimpse of our new away kit in action.  The purple and black hoops have received a bit of stick from some fans.  I have to confess I’m not really too bothered about what our kits look like: my attitude towards them is defined more by the results we achieve in them.  If we win something in that kit, I’ll love it, pure and simple.

Of course, winning anything at all is going to be tricky, what with our star players wanting to leave all the time.  In this recent interview, scout Gilles Grimandi as good as admitted that Olivier Giroud was bought with half an eye on Robin van Persie’s potential exit:

“Was the recruitment of Olivier Giroud made ​​to compensate for his departure? Yes, we work to avoid being cornered. But we do everything to keep him [Van Persie] and we want him to stay.

If there’s a great offer and if he wants to leave and it will be difficult to keep him.”

The pressure on new boy Giroud grows daily.  If Van Persie leaves – and in my opinion that is by far the most likely outcome here – the burden the Frenchman will have to shoulder will be immense.  And as each day goes by without news on Theo Walcott’s contract, that situation gets more perplexing too.

It’s going to be another one of those summers…