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Pre-season ends with a damp squib

by on August 7, 2011

A shame really, but hardly to be expected. Benfica won the Eusebio Cup by beating us 2-1 at the Estadio de Luz. Before I go on to talk about how we did, I just wanted to say that I still don’t understand the obsession with pre-season results. Although the season kicks off in one week, it’s still stupid to try and use pre-season results to prove that we’re going to be relegated this season. Does anyone remember the pre-season before the Invincibles season? Or how about before the seasons where we won the double? By and large they don’t for one simple reason, nobody cares about pre-season.

Let’s talk about the match then. You can find the highlights here.

The ‘keepers seems a reasonable place to start. Szczesny got the calmer half behind a team that managed to keep possession and defend properly. He had to be on his toes to rush out and smother a threat and looked more composed than he did last season, making sure not to make contact so as to not concede a penalty. Fabianski got the second half and did well. He was unfortunate with the first goal but possibly could have done better with the second, although he would be justified to question the defending there by Squillaci. He made some smart saves to keep the score-line at 2-1 as Benfica looked lively in the second half. It was good to see both ‘keepers looking confident and commanding their areas better than we’ve seen in recent seasons.

The right-backs both had decent games with most of the attacking threat coming from Benfica’s right side, so Sagna and Jenkinson both had quiet games. Johan Djourou got the first half and still looked a little rusty. Having said that, he seems to be blowing off the cobwebs and returning to last-season form, which can only be good news. Thomas Vermaelen played almost the whole match and captained the side in the second half. He showed the usual fiery passion for the team but was at fault for the first goal with naive defending to be out-muscled by his marker in the area. Sebastian Squillaci came on for the second half. The first goal wasn’t his fault, the second probably was. It’s just at that stage where, whatever he does he’ll get lambasted for it. I feel for the guy because I don’t think he’s a bad player, just too old and slow for our high line. Worryingly, he wore the armband for the last 5 or so minutes.

Young Ignasi Miquel came on in the 85th minute for Vermaelen and then not much happened. I’d still rather we had Bartley around though, especially with our tendency to pick up debilitating injuries at crucial moments. Kieran Gibbs played the first 56 minutes, despite not actually being in the squad. He was great in the first half, nice cut-back to set up Van Persie for the goal and some top-notch defending. In the second half, normal service resumed as he was sometimes caught out of position when defending and he lost possession in the build-up to the Benfica goal. Armand Traore naturally replaced him and didn’t look too bad. We were quieter by then as we lost fluidity and he had less of a platform to build on when going forward.

Song in the first half was…  not up to his usual standard. While he’s improved over recent years in terms of going forward, his attemtps to make up for Wilshere’s absence by playing balls from deep didn’t work too well. Think a lot of loose passes and you’ve got the idea. With luck, he’ll be back alongside Wilshere soon and won’t have to carry much of a creative burden. He came off at halftime for Emmanuel Frimpong, who gave the usual Frimpong performance with high pressing and his physical style of play, but a lack of composure and positional sense sometimes lets him down and means the back-four don’t always have the protection they need.

Surprisingly, Aaron Ramsey had an off day. He played the whole match but struggled to get into the game at the start. He got going towards the end of the first half but couldn’t keep it going throughout the second half as the team lacked continuity and it was unfortunately a day to forget for Aaron. His midfield partner, Tomas Rosicky, was much better. Like most of this pre-season he’s looked bright, creative and has just been that little bit sharper than he used to be. Could it be that he’s finally over his injury? We’ll have to wait and see but if there’s a gap in the midfield at St. James’ Park, it could well be that Rosicky starts there. Rosicky came off after 65 minutes for Henri Lansbury. Lansbury was full of passion and tried hard but he seemed to lack a bit of composure and really needs to up his game if he wants to make the most of the chances he gets this season.

Andrei Arshavin wasn’t too bad. He was bright, like everyone else in the first half. He even tried heading a ball. He get chinned on the back of his head for his efforts, but it was nice to see him try. He came off at half-time for Miyaichi. Ryo tried to use his pace and his tricks to get past defenders, but for all the sharpness shown in the first half, lethargy was shown in the second and he just didn’t get the service required to release him. Gervinho, or Ricky as he’s now known in my book, started brightly but after impressing in pretty much every single match he’s played in so far, he just seemed to fade out of this one a little. Still almost scored though.

Up front then and Van Persie led the side out as he wore the armband during his first-half performance. He had a good game, setting up the move for the goal, scoring the goal, taking a knock from a bad tackle, coming back on and getting ready to start a fight with anyone who looked the wrong way at him or one of his players. Not a bad captain…. He came off at half-time for Marouane Chamakh. It was the same as usual from the Moroccan unfortunately, with passes, tackles and interceptions all going fine, but no danger in the area. I think he had one header saved and that was about it. I think that once he gets a good game under his belt with a goal or two then he’ll be fine, questions remain about when that will happen though. If RVP really is injured, that leaves us with just Chamakh. I for one wouldn’t mind Bendtner staying a little longer.

Wenger had a very quick chat with the media after the game, speaking about the match, injuries and the Fabregas saga.

My favourite had to be his reaction to Jack Wilshere being called up to the England squad.

They can include him as much as they want, he will not play [because of injury].

I also heard that Samir Nasri has been called up to the France squad. I’m not really planning on reading anything into that to be honest, regarding Wilshere I just hope he’s not included in the final squad for the match on Wednesday. I’m not going to talk about injuries until later this week, purely because we can expect our 93 most experienced players to be injured during the international break.

The team have shown a lack of fitness during pre-season, which isn’t ideal given our packed schedule. Having said that, Benfica had 17 substitutes yesterday so I think it would be a given that they would be able to press more and keep possession better as the match wore on. As for worries about the defence towards the end of the match? I don’t see us being that likely to have Jenkinson, Squillaci and Miquel as three of our back-four against high-level opposition. I hope not anyway.

Moving away from the match then, Goonertalk reckon that Eboue is off! Cry, cheer, I don’t really mind as I think Jenkinson is probably a more stable deputy for Sagna anyway. Joel Campbell, the young Costa Rican striker, is also apparently going to sign on August 16th when his deal with his agent runs out. The Mirror have gone with the AOC story for the 23985328th time this summer, but in all honesty I would rather buy Campbell if he’s £11m cheaper and just as good. Reminds me of Phil Jones costing £17m or whatever it was and Jenkinson costing £1m. I wonder how much of that was because Jenkinson was Finnish rather than English? They also reckon that City want Nasri. There’s a shocker. The Mail have just found out about a clause in Fabregas’ contract that we’ve been talking about for a year. That’s brilliant.

David Dein has been massively defending Arsene Wenger. Good man. YoungGuns reckons that, if he doesn’t get his work permit, then Ryo Miyaichi could well go back out to Feyenoord for the season.

Finally, Tim Stillman continues his Vital Arsenal series on our FA Cup wins, this time focussing on our 2003 triumph, and here’s a video of Kyle Bartley vs. Chelsea. As you can probably tell, he’s still not fully match fit.

That’s it for today. Also, my throat really really hurts. Nick should have a post up tomorrow morning and I’ll be back sometime during the week, quite probably tomorrow as well. If you don’t already then you can follow me on twitter @SavageGooner.

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4 Comments
  1. Very astute analysis of the game and its ramifications to AFC. This is one of the few seasons that the Gunners seem less fit than usual. Fortunately they have an entire week to work on that and to get the injuries settled back into the squad.

    • Thanks. I know what you mean, maybe not going to Austria wasn’t the best idea, I suppose we’l have to wait and see how we turn out next weekend.

  2. Great review! You actually covered some curious things here. I came across it by using Google and I’ve got to admit that I already subscribed to the RSS feed, will be following you on my iphone :)

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