Hamburg v Real Madrid 2pm.
(editor's contribution - It wouldn't be an Arsenal blog if I couldn't have a little laugh at ex tottenscum manager Jol, so enjoy the pics below!- FTK.)
Martin Jol - Coach of Hamburg
A Clown - Not the Coach of Hamburg
(errr back to the blog!-FTK)
Hamburger SV, or Hamburg as they are more commonly known, finished 4th in last season’s Bundesliga. They finished very far behind leaders and Bayern Munich and quite a way behind 2nd place Werder Bremen and 3rd place Schalke 04. Hamburg have not been a hugely successful side over recent years and are a very small club compared to the Bayerns off this world. They have a few quality players but the squad is generally made up of fairly good players that play well as a unit. They are hard to break down and can forage forward with nice attacking football at times.
Arsenal fans will remember when Hamburg visited the Emirates two seasons back in the Champions League group stages. They put up quite a fight and were unlucky to go down 3-1. They went ahead courtesy of star player and Captain Rafael Van Der Vaart. He remains to this day their best player and talisman; question marks remain how much longer he will be this for HSV. He is courted by Real Madrid amongst many and may well be wearing the white of Madrid against his former club. His goal two years back was exquisite and if Hamburg are to put on a good show over these two days, he will be crucial to their plans.
I saw a bit of their game against Man City and some of the football was very good. Whenever the likes of Van Der Vaart got on the ball, they looked dangerous. The side has a fairly solid base with Frank Rost a campaigned goalkeeper behind a defence that contains Vincent Kompany, a player long admired by our very own Arsene Wenger. It will be good to see him play first hand against top quality strikers. Who knows, he may impress the boss into a bid! The erratic, former Tottenham full back Atouba can be a real handful when he’s up for it; the problem is one never knows how he’ll play.
In midfield they have a bit of bite with Nigel De Jong who played well for Holland at Euro 2008 and they have the experience of David Jarolim who also featured at the Euros for the Czechs. Then there is Van Der Vaart. He is given the freedom to express himself and make the team tick. Without him, Hamburg look very weak and he clearly loves to run the show. He supplies the likes of Mohammed Zidan, the Egyptian striker who was a key component in the side that won the ACON last year. They also have Ivica Olic who scored at Wembley when England were kicked out of the Euros during the qualifying stage. He knows where the goal is and is the sort of striker that thrives on the supply that Van Der Vaart can give.
Hamburg will not be expected to do much come August 2nd, but they have nothing to lose. As PSG showed last year, anything can happen and I can see HSV being right up for this tournament.
Arsenal v Juventus 4-15pm
In their first season back in Serie A, Juventus restored some pride to the ‘Old Lady’. After their involvement in the match fixing scandal, there was a question mark over whether players would remain loyal to the club once they were relegated to the second tier of Italian football. To their credit, most of the players remained at the club as they had the belief that the club would be able to recover its position near the top of Serie A. It is pretty refreshing to see such loyalty in a game that is seemingly ruled by high wages and agents. I remember Gigi Buffon had options to move elsewhere for larger sums of money and Champions League football, yet he stuck it out for the good of his team. Here they are once again, back in the Champions League after finishing 3rd last season.
The only problem for Juve is that they finished 13 points behind an Inter Milan side that looked like Champions from the off. It probably was too much to ask when it came to a title challenge from Juventus, but 3rd place is mighty respectable; they finished above reigning European Champions AC Milan after all. Now they have found their feet again in Serie A, there is no doubt the side has the ability to push Inter Milan all the way next season. Do not write them off in Europe as well, the Old Lady still has some life in her yet. The Italian teams normally have a canny knack of doing well in Europe and Juventus will be determined to restore pride to Italian football after Liverpool and Arsenal dominated the Milan sides over two legs.
The Juventus side of last season was far from perfect and this summer Claudio Ranieri has already looked to address this in this summer window. The team last season shaped up something like this:
The strike force of Del Piero and Trezeguet was the main reason that Juventus did so well last season as they racked up 41 league goals between them (Del Piero – 21, Trezeguet – 20). This was the first season that Del Piero broke the 20 league goal barrier and he really did find his form under the guidance of Ranieri. He was a player re-born and complimented Trezeguet brilliantly. The only worry for the boss is that they are both over 30 years old and he has to look to bring in some younger legs to the squad. This led him to bolster the squad with the signing of Amauri. This guy looks like an exciting prospect for the Juve fans. At Palermo he had a strike rate of a goal every 2 games for the past 2 seasons. He was always destined for a bigger side and Ranieri has given him that chance. With Iaquinta on the way out it seems, the three strikers left could prove pivotal next season.
When Juve lost Vieira to Inter, there is no doubt that the midfield looked a little threadbare and it still was that way last season. Whenever I watched the Turin side, the midfield was way too open. Gaps appeared way too often and the back four was rarely protected. This was seemingly obvious to Ranieri as he went and spent a combined total of €21m on Mohammed Sissoko and Christian Poulsen. Both these players are dynamic defensive minded midfield players. Granted, Sissoko has work to do to find his best playing days once again; Poulsen on the other hand is a real coup. At Sevilla he was vital in providing the springboard for their exciting attacking players. He protected the full back areas when needed and was an unsung hero in their successive Uefa Cup heroics. Sebastian Giovinco has been recalled from loan to bring pace and skill to the wings. Pavel Nedved is getting on but is still a player that can unlock a defence. His football brain is still there and the combination of these two could work perfectly.
At the back Ranieri has made a shrewd signing in Olof Mellberg on a free transfer from Aston Villa. This will allow rotation in the centre as his only real centre backs were Andrade and Chiellini. The latter may also be able to revert back to a full back position where has spent most of his career. Mellberg performed at a really high level for Villa last year and I am not surprised once of Europe’s big sides came looking. Chiellini is a no holds barred defender and reminds me of Cannavaro and Nesta in their prime. He has all the attributes to succeed in the modern game. He is a player I would not mind at Arsenal to be honest but that’s another story! Christian Molinaro is another exciting prospect. I saw a handful of Juve games last season in which this full back was bombing up and down the pitch in the same manner as Clichy and Sagna do for the Arsenal. I can see why they want Clichy but they have a player in the same mould within their own ranks. He needs to improve defensively but so did Clichy not so long ago.
Behind all of this they have a goalkeeper who I believe is just behind Iker Casillas in the ranks for best keeper in the world. Gianluigi Buffon has consistently been a rock for Juventus over the years and for such a big man, he has awesome reactions and a great ability to get down low to make stunning reflex saves. He gives his defence confidence and from playing football myself, the knowledge you have a goalie to bail you out when you need it, is so reassuring when a team tries to play attacking football.
Last season, Juve were a far easier team to break down than they will be this season. Hopefully they field a relatively strong team and we are able to see it first hand. Their midfield is far stronger and with a potent strike force, any defence will have to be on red alert. As I said above, if a side can get close to the opposition penalty area, it will take something special to beat Buffon. I predict Juve will push Inter next season and the Emirates Cup will be a perfect chance for them to express themselves and send out a message just before the season starts.
The Arsenal squad
If you cast your minds back to the Emirates Cup last year, you will remember seeing an awful lot of Arsenal players take part. Wenger used the games to test his whole squad. The first game against PSG saw the fringe players stake a claim before the so called ‘big guns’ played out the decider against Inter Milan. This proved successful as Arsenal came away with the Emirates Cup trophy. It seems this time around, the boss will have a harder time selecting the sides he puts out. No disrespect to PSG, but they are not one of Europe’s elite and this time around Wenger has decided to pit his side against two heavyweights in Juventus and Real Madrid.
The easy thing would have been to play Hamburg and one of the other two sides but Wenger has taken a bold risk. There is no guarantee Arsenal will win either of the games we play, something that could be a big morale killer just before the season. However, Wenger believes his side are as good as any in Europe and there is no doubt that it will be a big test for the team. Juventus are probably slightly weaker going into the competition and it is in this game that Wenger will probably give his fringe players more game time. As we saw last year, it is in those games that players can stake a bi claim, look how well Flamini played in this competition after all.
Another option for Wenger is to mix things up more than he did last year. Kieran Gibbs got a starting place in the side for the Inter Milan fixture. He was really the only player who people would expect to see on the bench for a game like this. Like Flamini though, he showed class in this fixture and has made many Arsenal fans alert to his progress. It is clear to see that Wenger saw the first game as a chance for those less regular members of the first team, to show their abilities. He rotated a lot more and made many changes at half time.
The 2nd game saw a more familiar Arsenal side with fewer changes during the game. Wenger used only 3 subs only, just like a league game and it was clear that this time would resemble closely, his starting line up for the opening day of the season. It turns out only Hoyte and Gibbs were absent from this team that took on Fulham a few weeks later. These two players were given the chance to fight it out with the big boys and it was nice to see their presence.
This time around I can see a more mixed line up. With Juve a stronger side than PSG were, Wenger may well use half of his first team for that game, and the other half for the Madrid game. He will try and use his whole squad and use the new guys like Ramsey and Nasri. I think there will be two entirely different line ups but a different two trypes from last years Emirates Cup.
A few things I would like to see are as follows:
- Diaby used in central midfield
- Ramsey given a test against a strong side
- Nasri to be given both games to embed himself in the side and used to the stadium
- Sagna to start both games to get fitness
- Song to play at CB also
- Traore given a chance at left wing
- Walcott given a full game ahead of Eboue
There are other things, but they are the main things I would like to see. Either way, this will be a tough tournament to retain and the players will be put through their paces. Wenger will want them all to give 100% and it will be exciting to see the new signings in action.
By Josh Benson.
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