Arsenalís Asian Odyssey
By Alex Bellotti
Reflections on the pre-season tour
The last week has seen the Gunners jet-setting across the entire breadth of Asia in an effort to get some extra dollar and give fans from the other side of the world the chance to nab an autograph off their favourite player. From a purely footballing perspective though, the trip gave us the chance to see Arsenal in action three times, so I thought Iíd share some thoughts on what Wenger might have taken away from it regarding each section of the team.
In terms of goalkeeping itís quite clear that Szczesny is our first choice goalkeeper, and heís now got the number one jersey to prove it. The problem lies behind him, with neither Fabianski nor Mannone seemingly happy to remain as backup choices. The tour didnít particularly tell us anything we didnít know about either keepers, but I have a feeling as long as Fabianski doesnít depart, the club wonít be in a hurry to bring anyone in to challenge Szczesny. Indeed our most promising option is nineteen-year-old Damien Martinez, so if thereís anyone to watch for the remainder of the summer, itíll be the Argentine in the reserves. Fabianski for all intents and purposes will probably remain as a stopgap until Martinez is ready to become second choice, so we can only hope that Szczesnyís Polish comrade can recapture some of the form he showed early in 2010 if he needs to be called upon this season.
Defensively, the tour has in many ways showed us thereís still a lot of work to be done. In each of the three matches weíve played, we looked pretty damn suspect at the back but arguably not too much should be read into that. In the absence of senior options like Koscielny, Mertesacker, Sagna and even Vermaelen, whoís been used quite sparingly, Wenger gave game time to younger players like Bartley, Miquel, Jenkinson and even/bafflingly Eastmond. Considering those players were marshalled in defence by Johan Djourou, itís no surprise that a few goals were going to be conceded. The real work will begin in the next few weeks when Steve Bould gets to impart his legendary defensive knowledge when coaching our first choice stoppers. At the top of his priorities should be sorting out our left side. Whilst typically dangerous going forward, Gibbs and Santos are both so easily caught out of position with any high ball over the top, and as senior players this is something that needs to be fixed urgently.
Ultimately, such a fix might prove too much for Jenkinson. Heís a true Gunner and Iíd love to see him make it, but his positioning needs so much work you have to wonder if he can improve that much. Yennaris impressed against Malaysia when he played at right back and itís a pretty damning statement when two defensive midfielders are better in that position than Jenkinson. In the absence of Sagna, I hope that Coquelin fills in as deputy, heís looked tidy in pre-season, if not immune to the odd lapse, and heís certainly the most experienced to play at Premier League level.
The real interesting selection in terms of defensive backup this season though might lie in Kyle Bartley. Recently promoted to the first team, heís always seemed a bit hyped because a) heís English and b) heís English. However given a lot of chances this tour, he didnít look too out of place and may just need to continue that solid form considering we usually have spells during the season where approximately 99 per cent of our defence is crocked for a few months.
Our midfield was essentially a playground for the kids on the tour with Wenger giving generous time to a couple of academy players who took their chance with aplomb. Aneke scored against Malaysia and continued to impress in the following matches with great displays of strength, passing range and crucially tactical discipline. Any promising young black midfielder at the club always has the burden of being labelled ďthe next VieraĒ, but the African he reminded me of more was Yaya Toure. At times Anekeís vision was fantastic, but he looked equally happy to sit deep and keep things ticking, even though heís so naturally attack-mined. With a loan spell mooted at our best finishing school, Bolton Wanderers, it might be a year too early for a breakthrough yet, but at least heís shown every sign that heís capable of making one.
The biggest revelation though was the exciting talent that is Thomas Eisfeld. Much frustration was voiced when he signed in January because he had the indignity to not be Mario GŲtze, but he looks very much like he could be a great player in his own right. Tidy in possession, he demonstrated that rare ability of being in the right place at the right time and rewarded Wenger with two goals in two appearances. The noise around Eisfeld has been so little that itís unclear what the clubís intentions are for him, but you sense that, like Aneke, heís not too far away from the first team already in his short Arsenal career.
Itís fairly hard to judge the forwards because we basically didnít bring any, in terms of strikers at least. Chamakh looked better than he has done in holding up play and making intelligent runs, but his finishing still looks completely devoid of confidence. If he stays at the club, which if Van Persie goes, he may well do, heíll be third choice in his position and thatís completely what he should be in his current form. Afobe would have been hoping to challenge for that third spot this season, but he also displayed a fair amount of rustiness with his shooting, despite otherwise looking quite able to lead the line. Walcott looked particularly sharp in comparison and seems a bit more confident in his own finishing than in previous years. Continuing to draw influence from Henry, he tested out some long-range curlers against Man Citeh and Kitchee with a fair amount of accuracy and could just push for that much-sought central role this season if partnered with someone a bit more physically dominant like Giroud.
Miyaichi was fairly quiet for such a naturally explosive player, but you sense itís still early days in his career, having made such large step ups in a short space of time recently. The biggest positive in wide areas though, and of the tour in general, was Gervinho. Last season was hardly the worst of debut seasons, but it was hardly amazing and he seemed bereft of self-belief after returning from the stupidly disruptive African Cup of Nations. So far this summer though, heís impressed on every occasion and yesterday against Kitchee he was absolutely unplayable. By the end of it, the crowd were cheering in excitement every time he got the ball and he seemed to take confidence from it, taking two or three players on in a row and cutting through towards the by-line like there was no one there. If heís on top form, I donít think we have anyone in the squad whoís more direct and dangerous than him, so fingers crossed he truly settles this season a la Piresís second campaign and establishes himself as a player of real worth.
Overall, of course pre-season games are purely for fitness, but considering our usual onslaught of injuries and the fact that apparently players like Podolski and Giroud might not be ready for the start of this season, itís worth considering which players could fill in or breakthrough if need be. The Asian Tour showed that thereís still a lot of work to be done if weíre to properly challenge for trophies, but also showcased a few talents in Aneke, Eisfeld and Gervinho that we can rightly be optimistic about. Now that the teamís back together in London, letís hope the other players can raise themselves to the same sharp levels before the League kicks off in a few weeks!
*Follow my Arsenal-related musings on Twitter@WengerGen
31st July 2012
User Comment and Reaction
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MRMROD 10:48am 31st Jul 2012
A sit on the fence article - The tour was a major success in terms of marketing and the sale of merchandise. However, the performances and results overall didnt inspire me with confidence and judging by the defensive and goal keeping options available our hearts will be in our mouths more often than not this season; that said it wasnt our first choice line up of Kos, TV, Sagna and Gibbs? In midfield with Diaby prone and Wiltshire still out we should acquire at least one other although I for one am happy, following a successful Euro's, that Arshavin may be staying to complement Ox, Arteta and Song, hopefully Arsene!) in midfield. In terms of forwards time will tell with Giroud and Podolski, given his age, experience and world-class-ness, should slot in quickly, whilst Walcott (as infuriatingly diabolical as he can be sometimes!) will once again be dangerous with his pace. The Asian tour only proved that at the moment the club is firmly geared towards putting marketing, finance and maintaining our business model before football. However, from a footballing perspective it is clear that we are shy of probably 3 players...a keeper(Lloris), midfield steel (M'Villa) and a forward (although i'd take cazorla). - Post No. 27333
duyduy 11:03am 31st Jul 2012
Thanks for all of your mind about Arsenal club problems , but with lack of Rosicky-Jack-Sagna-Frimpong-Diaby(?) and indistinct case of Theo, Arshavin & RVP I think next season will be difficult to Arsenal. However, with commitments of Kos6 Ver5 i feel so happy and belief. - Post No. 27334
Alex Bellotti 12:00pm 31st Jul 2012
If it seems like I'm sitting on the fence, it's mainly because they were only preseason matches. We were hardly playing with a fully fit and prepared first team so it'd be a bit rash to jump to big conclusions, good or bad. Were any of those games in the Premier League I'd have course been more critical! In terms of the midfield, I forgot to mention OC and Diaby. For the start of the season, IF he's fit, I'd prob pick Diaby. I love Chamberlain but think he still needs a bit more time before moving centrally. There were times where the game passed him by when he was tried out there in Asia and Diaby just seems a bit more mature and influential when he plays in that role at this moment in time. Plus the Frenchman really is very talented, have a feeling if he stays fit he could have a bit of a breakthrough this season, but it's always such a big 'if'. - Post No. 27335
JER 12:29pm 31st Jul 2012
But Gervinho still didn't shoot when he had chances! I wouldn't get over-excited by Eisfeld, two simple goals as a substitute. I like Yennaris, he is quick and athletic, possibly a better backup for Bacs then Jenkinson but may benefit from a loan spell. Bartley looks a better prospect than Miquel, much stronger and more suited to the English game I think. Coquelin has to play in midfield, one of the few players in our squad who can tackle and has a good aggresive attitude - I think he can push Song this season. Ryo looks far too lightweight at the moment, we have enough of that type of player - another loan spell needed I think. What about Lansbury? It seems that Wenger doesn't rate him enough, looks a decent player to me but we are over loaded with midfielders, even though many aren't fit. - Post No. 27336
GoonerGoal! 12:34pm 31st Jul 2012
It must be great to be able to see the future of Arsenal under the present regime in such a Chauncey Gardiner way. "As long as the roots are not severed, all is well, and all will be well in the garden." But unfortunately, no such thoughts occupy my mind when considering the coming season. - Post No. 27337
GG89 12:40pm 31st Jul 2012
Whatever happens with transfers or promoting youth players it would be good to avoid a line up like the on at Old Trafford near the start of last season. Never again please! - Post No. 27338
MRMROD 13:24pm 31st Jul 2012
I concur entirely Alex with your views on Diaby and echo your sentiments re Ox. Ox is easily my favourite player at the moment given his strength, pace, energy and enthusiam etc etc. Even though he's 18 I feel he's key for me this season no matter where he plays and would particularly slot in nicely alongside a fit Wilshire...time will tell. - Post No. 27339
maguiresbridge gooner 13:37pm 31st Jul 2012
The tour was certainly all about the dollar and nothing else with the emirates cup being cancelled the dough had to come from somewhere.Yes they were only meaningless friendlies with mostly reserves and young guns but lets hope the team that starts the season doesn't continue on from where they left off with the same old displays and errors.Bouldy has his work cut out all right and not very long to do it.We've all been calling for a back up or first choice keeper for goodness knows how long and it's not looking likely but maybe we'll be surprised if not and flappy as backup god help us.I agree the tour showcased some talent and if they're not shipped out on loan we'll see them again in the CC or CO cup or whoever is sponsoring it this year or there again considering we're running out of star players to sell arsene might bump them up to the first team. - Post No. 27340
Petit 13:56pm 31st Jul 2012
you say "the stupidly disruptive African Cup of Nations", that's too much disrespect for our african soccer man. They belong to Africa and most of them grew up here so they have every right to play for their nations. And i am happy most are loyal, unlike one of yours who fakes an injury in order to avoid Olympics, that too disgraceful for a modern time footballer! Have you ever wondered why English national team is c**p? because none of your men wants to play for the honor of the nation, they are happy to collect a lot of cash from their club, and head for endless holidays. I am an arsenal fan to the heart and even if ti means we have to lose the whole squad to the AFCON, then let it be! we love see them play on their home soil. - Post No. 27341
Lord Froth 14:01pm 31st Jul 2012
I enjoyed the article tbh. After all the doom-mongering and lack of any real news I admit that I'm getting excited because is only a few weeks until proper football is back. If you don't feel a slight tingle of anticipation and hope at the start of a new season then I pity you. Financial spreadsheets aside it's the love of the game that has us all visiting this website. - Post No. 27342
Ron 14:02pm 31st Jul 2012
Without signings Steve Bould will achieve zilch. Moreover without a whole new team playing style ie aborting Wengers failed gung ho policy, the defence wont improve no matter how much of a stalwart he was. Furthermore, Scezny (spelling) isnt No 1 material either. Hes not good enough. The tour was great for Gazadis. Other than that it was a waste of time. - Post No. 27343
Alex Bellotti 15:11pm 31st Jul 2012
'Petit' you're right about my little dig the ACON, in retrospect that was unnecessary. It's great that the players involved are proud to play for their country and I enjoyed watching it last year (apart from Gervinho's soul destroying miss haha). It just annoys me how they feel it's necessary to have it so often, especially now they've changed it to odd years so it's two seasons in a row. I meant no disrespect to the tournament itself or the countries in it though, I apologise for that - Post No. 27344
Pundit Pete 16:58pm 31st Jul 2012
Whilst i agree with Petits sentiment I have to point out that when talking about Bale that he is Welsh, Not English but his point is correct nonetheless. shameful from Bale, his coach and his club..... pre season, pre bould, pre full squad, too much to happen yet to really make many judgments. - Post No. 27345
GoonerGoal! 17:49pm 31st Jul 2012
@GG89... Given that RvP will have moved on by then, and considering that we have already being told that Podolski, Giroud, Sagna, and Wilshire will be missing at the start of the season, avoiding a starting line up at the start of the season like the one at Old Trafford last year is almost impossible. There are 18 points available to us in matches up to the end of September, which include Liverpool (a) City (a) and Chelsea (h) so I expect 0 points there. With the players available to us at present, we might even struggle to take any more than 4 points from the remaining games - Sunderland (h) Stoke (a) and Southampton (h)Ö - Post No. 27346
bunch 3:30am 1st Aug 2012
Pre-season. meh. This summer has got to be about transfers, ins and outs. The most instructive thing about our pre-season tour was the absence of RvP. - Post No. 27349
Jimmy 7:15am 1st Aug 2012
Szczesny gets injured we are stuck with the worse keeper ever to play for Arsenal.That is a shocking state of affairs and rank bad management again by Wenger.The goalkeeping position has never been taken seriously by Wenger hence Almunia Flappyanski and Mannone - Post No. 27350
Der Projekt ist Kaput 7:23am 1st Aug 2012
Sorry - but with the already (!!!) long list of injuries, the first few games of the season will be a car crash for us. If you also add the risk factor that we a single injury to Szczesny away from having a pub team goalie between the sticks, I'm even more fearful. The really annoying thing of course, is that the whole world can see our lack of real quality and the terrible record of our medical backroom staff, except for one stubborn Frenchman. - Post No. 27351
Tony Evans 8:34am 1st Aug 2012
Agree with Ron's comments on Bouldy and Wenger's gung ho, sod the defence mentality and also Sczeny's effectiveness (lack of) in goal which Wenger appears oblivious to. Not only is Sczeny not ready for the number one spot we have Flappy as number two. It is bordering on criminal negligence by Wenger - why he doesn't give the keeper position more attention and attach more importance to it is beyond me. These pre-season knock abouts tell us nothing we didn't already know - we are just not good enough, and defensively we are still a joke. - Post No. 27352
billthered 10:59am 1st Aug 2012
Am I the only one that can see that the answer to our midfield defence is at the club already.Come in TV5,he has al the attributes ala Manny Petit but with more goals,just play him there and buy some good centre half I'm sure Steve Bould should be able to recognise one and with our clubs need to not spend much this would be a perfect answer. - Post No. 27353
Ron 11:05am 1st Aug 2012
Jimmy - You ll be upsetting Jim Furnell and Jack McClelland (older and grizzled fans will recall them well!) there by threatening their proud, long and loftily held positions at the head of the 'worst keepers' etc, but youre right, theres no doubt that Flappyhandski is right up there and maybe does surpass those two 'legends' in that dept. In fact, yes he does! Youre right. - Post No. 27354
jack 12:05pm 1st Aug 2012
wow, you lot a a bunch of miserable sobs arent you? maybe you should consider not follwing the team if it brings you this much misery - Post No. 27355
Petit 14:44pm 1st Aug 2012
Right now i am convinced more than ever that we will never win anything with AW at the helm.Anybody who believes we are going to have any kind of trophy at the end of the season must believe in miracles, and sorry mate its human nature that few would believe in miracles. Look at the squad available, in fact we are worse off than last season. the tour told us nothing, without Podi, Giroud, Koscielny, others are injured, and talking of injuries it pains me when i think of Wilshere. Do we have a medical team? looks like para-medics. The "glory" we are looking forward to is a remote dream, if there is anything like that. Apology accepted "Alex". - Post No. 27356
GoonerGoal! 18:08pm 1st Aug 2012
@jack.. How original! How hard it must be for you to trust the evidence of your own eyes, and how reluctantly does your mind consent to the reality that confronts you, season after season, after season, after season, after season... - Post No. 27357
maguiresbridge goonerklk 19:43pm 1st Aug 2012
Did anyone see the medals presented to the spuds after the bulls match ? Maybe they can't be described as medals more like a saucer on a ribbon they looked embarrassed leaving the pitch hilarious. - Post No. 27358
jack 22:08pm 1st Aug 2012
@goonerGoal!, Just merely an observation that if arsenal is bringing you more misery than joy as it should be, then stop following the team, sick of hearing all you whiners keep pointing out whats wrong at what point do you stop being a fan and just another critic - Post No. 27359
maguiresbridge gooner 22:27pm 1st Aug 2012
For anybody thinking the three letters after my name at post no 27358 mean anything they don't they were the first three letters of the verification code we now require to post.I don't know how they got there myself but i'm blaming the beer. - Post No. 27360
GoonerGoal! 10:20am 2nd Aug 2012
@ jackÖ An interesting interpretation of the current role of an unhappy Arsenal supporter. Youíll notice I didnít say ďfanĒ. F1 has fans, football clubs have supporters, and some Arsenal supporters will not sit there silently while the club extracts £1000ís from us every season for very little return. We are angry and frustrated about the way in which the status of the club has been allowed to decline, both on and off the pitch, over the past seven seasons, and we will continue to say so. Make no mistake, the AWBís are now a diminishing minority, but according to you the rest of us are just ďwhinersĒ who keep ďpointing out whatís wrongĒ. So then, you admit things are wrong? Well I guess thatís a start, but what would you have us do? It seems you believe we should just sit and watch some of the dross put out before us in an Arsenal shirt, hand over £1000ís every year, and allow things to continue exactly the way they have been going for the past seven seasons, without a single murmur of complaint. If thatís how you deal with the continuing disappointment of Arsenal under Wenger that is your right, but I believe that nothing will change, unless we the supporters try to force change upon the club, and that my friend, is our right. VIVE LA REVOLUTION! - Post No. 27397
20th May 2013
Online Ed: 4th place trophy and CL qualifier secured