Pre-season is upon us and thank god (Arsene?) for that. No more rumours of comings and goings, tabloid spin and down right lies, players turning on clubs, or fans turning on player. This is all about 38 games, a few extra in the cup of course, 11 against 11, and let’s see who wins the most. We are now back with the beauty: the game itself and cheering on the team we love in lusty dulcet tones. (Ed.’s note: I have heard Josh sing and dulcet is a downright lie, cats get drowned more gracefully)
This preseason offers fans more opportunity than any previously to watch the boys and gain some insight into the coming season, with all the games being shown live on Arsenal TV online. As a quick aside, ATVO is well worth the 4 quid a month it costs, giving highlights of every game and extensive interviews pre and post game.
Last year showed us several things and had many memorable images. The big talking point was the Toure Gallas partnership and how it struggled, particularly in the air, as neither dominates in this department – if only we had paid more attention. But it also showed us that this young team had found a quite special inner desire and drive to succeed, memorably encapsulated by Robin Van Persie’s late goal against inter to seal the Emirates cup. RVP of course then scored 7 goals in 9 games to start the season, looking like the man most likely when we really needed a goal, only to fade through injury; what a difference he would have made last year in support of Ade.
Kieran Gibbs, currently England’s outstanding player at the UEFA under-19 Euro Championships, announced himself as a prospect, Kolo Toure turned up looking like the Hulk and Eddy showed us we had a class act on our hands. All these things spring vividly and readily to mind, forming part of the recollection of what seemed destined to be such a fabulous season, but became a memory of missed opportunity and fleeting glances at the prize. So, in the spirit of looking forward now, finding hope for next year, and trying to let go of last season’s disappointments and embracing the chance for redemption at hand; here are my 5 things to look out for this pre-season.
1) Formation: I honestly think that for the first time in his reign as Arsenal magician in residence, Wenger will ditch 4-4-2 on a permanent basis. All the other big clubs play 3 through the middle, closing down space more effectively, and shielding the defence better; leaving us looking lightweight in comparison. Plus, I think that this suits the players we now have, a small quick team, without an enforcer in the middle of the park, this would give us that grit we need more of. It would free up Fabregas to get forward more, and enable Walcott, Vela, and RVP to play wide but advanced, particularly improving our counter-attacking capabilities.
2) Centre Midfield: This is obviously a big question mark, although with Gilberto gone surely, surely? Wenger must buy a new holding player. If not Diaby, who I rate highly and think should get a chance to claim the spot as his own, should be given a lot of playing time. Denilson, who for anyone who hasn’t seen him is something very, very special, is now back fit. Merida, the next great thing and heir apparent to Fabregas should be on show to, plus of course Ramsey, who in the one time I saw him, the FA Cup final, looked a touch above anything else on show – and that was my opinion before I knew we were going to bid. So a lot of talent, young and unproven; but who would have thought that this time last year Flamini’s contract would seem like such an important saga for the club. Arsene knows and something will become apparent here.
3) The Kids: “They’re all bloody kids” a cynic might shout, fairly so, the squad got younger again this summer, hardly seems possible, with the departures of Lehmann, Hleb, Flamini, and sadly Gilberto. However, I mean the ones just about hitting puberty, the future young guns. There is a crop of kids coming through now that should play the Carling Cup games this season that are largely unseen to all but those who travel to Underhill. I personally would like to see a totally separate team play in both domestic cups, one of squad players and youngsters, but we will get a good glimpse here of whether that is folly or not. So, watch out for: Merida, Randall, Wiltshire, Lansbury, Gibbs, Nordveidt, Barazite, Ramsey, and Hoyte the younger. Someone is bound to put their name on the map, and many of these names will be leading us to glorious revenge against the spuds in their season’s only chance of a trophy I hope.
4) The Defence: This is simple, does anyone new arrive, if not, lets get a glimpse of how the boss will deal with the issues raised last season. As I said before, I think a midfield three, with someone holding a bit deeper, will give more protection, but that is a hypothetical. We should find out what the pecking order is behind the top two – Senderos or Song – and whether a new system will be deployed to fix our frailties.
5) New Signings: Last, but not least, everyone’s favourite bit of pre-season, the new acquisitions in an Arsenal kit for the first time. Nasri, Ramsey, Vela at least. With Hleb and Gilberto now gone, plus Lehmann and Flamini off the wage bill, we pretty much broke even spending wise, and are saving money in terms of pay. The war-chest is essentially untouched, and I would expect to see at least one signing more – that looks guaranteed, but probably a defender and midfielder will arrive. If we add steel to our side, and can keep clean sheets away, we should win the league this year; that is all we fell short on last time. Of the people who left, only Flamini looks like a hole right now. Plus, whoever fills in for Hleb, looks like Theo short term – he earned it – will add more dynamism and certainly more goals.
These are the issues that have got me buzzing ahead of Saturdays big kick-off, as ever comments welcome, and lets hear what has the rest of the insiders scratching the old noggin whilst we wait. This will be our year and it starts Saturday, so keep the faith, and wherever you are sing up for the boys.