Let us run through some Arsenal snippets:
Thierry Henry is really assuring a permanent place in the hearts of Gooners everywhere with this latest quotes attributed to him, where he said he ‘won’t recommend Spurs to anyone’ and that he is ‘Arsenal through and through’. Just like Henry, I would be shocked and utterly disappointed if Vieira did join Spurs.
Rumours are getting rife with regards to Toure’s future. There are many ‘reports’ in the media which claim a deal has been struck with Manchester City and that an official announcement is imminent. Personally, I hope this isn’t true but I can see why Wenger will agree to such a deal especially if the price is right. With Vermaelen, Djourou, Gallas (who seem to be staying as all early pre-season rumours of his transfer have gone cold), Senderos (who still hasn’t sorted his future) and Silvestre (gasp!), Wenger might decide that he has enough cover especially since the African Cup of Nations will mean Toure’s absence for up to 2 months. But it would be a dangerous move to let him leave when I see no one new arriving. On the surface, it might seem like we are well covered but we should always have 4 top defenders to choose from. Injuries seem to bug us in every position in every season and if one or two injuries struck, we would look back on the day of Toure’s departure with much much regret. Also, as Gooner speaking from his heart, it will pain me deeply if he leaves. I firmly believe Toure did his best for Arsenal and no matter what loss-of-form he endured and whatever mistakes he had committed, he will still be best remembered for his never-say-die attitute and his tenacity is infectious. Any team would be better with him around whether he is used as a squad player or as a first-teamer, and I would hate to see him in another English team’s colours.
Meanwhile, my all-time favorite Arsenal player Dennis the great Bergkamp has heaped praise on Andrey Arshavin. It seems apt that Bergkamp is the one who picked Arshavin as the player to watch next season as they are both magicians who play best in the spot beind the main striker. I’m realy looking forward to the first full season with Arshavin. If he stays injury-free, I believe he will be someone who can light up the Premier League.
Our Mr. Reliable Bacary Sagna has also been singing the praises of new signing Thomas Vermaelen. I hope this is a sign of things to come. So far in pre-season, Vermaelen has shown that he is a very mobile defender and a hard, no-nonsense tackler who possess a huge leap.
Moving on to Arsenal’s pre-season friendly against Szombathelyi Haladas, the 2nd runner-up in the Hungarian top-flight who had qualified for the first edition of the Europa League, but was unfortunately knocked out in the qualifying rounds. Although they are a team from Hungary who just qualified for Europe, they are still a team that proved a much tougher test than the first two friendlies Arsenal had played. With that in mind, our team still did remarkably well with Nicklas Bendtner and Eduardo scoring a brace each and van Persie adding a second-half penalty to pile on the misery for the Hungarian side.
As usual, I will pick out a few interesting points from the friendly:
1 – Kolo Toure led out the team as captain.
Despite the on-going rumours about Toure leaving for Manchester City, he not only started the game but as captain of the side. There is no doubt that Wenger still seem to trust him, or at least want to see for himself if Toure can be the same player of 2 seasons ago. I must say Toure looked much slimer and fitter than last season, or maybe my laptop screen isn’t exactly HD. Wenger spoke to Arsenal TV Online after the game which includes further clue as to Toure’s future. I really ought to subscribe to it. Anyone who can view, please update via the comments section about what Wenger said.
2 – Bendtner has scored a brace in each of the last 2 games.
Bendtner is a player who strives on confidence. He had 15 goals in all competitions last season, I have firm belief now that he had one more year’s experience and now without Adebayor in the side, he’s bound to get more opportunities to shine. I won’t be surprised in the least bit to see him reach 20+ goals in all competitions next season. He has the technique, the size, tenacity and footballing intelligence. Now, he just needs composure in front of goal to be the perfect direct replacement for Adebayor.
3 – Eduardo scored a brace in his first game in pre-season.
Eduardo has a good habit of scoring in his return games. He seemed to score whenever he plays his first game recovering from an injury or from suspensions. This has continued and I am really looking forward to seeing more of him next season. To me, there is no doubt in my mind that if not for that horrible tackle on him by that jerk Taylor, we would have won the league in 2007/2008. The rot began from that tackle. He is another striker whom I expect will get more than 20 goals for us next season. If everyone contributes a bit more in front of goal, the absence of Adebayor will be covered.
4 – van Persie scored 3 in 2 games, 2 of them penalties.
There was a time after Ian Wright left, that Arsenal was bereft of genuine penalty-takers. I bet it is not conceivable that Lee Dixon was our designated penalty-taker back in those glory days, but he really was – just a piece of trivia for new Gooners. But now van Persie looks to be someone who I can watch taking a penalty without me closing my eyes and wishing for the best. Good news, as whatever chances we have, especially with penalties, we ought to put them away.
5 – Thomas Rosicky didn’t play again.
He has only played in the game against Barnet so far, but I think there is nothing to fear as his pre-season training is still very much on track. I expect to see him in the next friendly though.
6 – Jack Wilshere started all 3 friendlies to-date.
I think we can expect to see more of Wilshere this coming season and this is mouth-watering in itself. I genuinely think he is a real star in the making. As long as he keeps his feet on the ground and keeps learning and developing, we have a real superstar in our hands. Best thing is, he is a real home-grown player. In the friendlies to-date, he can be seen playing a very disciplined game, somewhat holding back some of his audacious moves and keeping his attacking instincts in check to avoid losing the ball. I guess the coaches are training him to be more of a team player first and to keep his discipline in his positioning. But I have no doubt Wenger will allow him to roam free once he learns how to be more of a team player, especially when it comes to defending and tracking back. Once he is given more freedom, that is when he will shine.
7 – Vito Mannoe played his first game of pre-season.
He actually did well in the 45 minutes he was involved. But goalkeepers need the competitive experience to really develop. However, I think he did remind Wenger of the player he is that made him the official 3rd choice in the first place.
8 – Gallas partnered Vermaelen for the second time in pre-season.
Will this be the new first choice defensive partnership? It could well be although I still feel Djourou should be given the nod ahead of Gallas. But I see Wenger opting for experience instead and it is with good reason. Gallas is a top defender on his day and playing alongside him can only improve Vermaelen’s own game.
9 – Aaron Ramsey impressed as a box-to-box midfielder.
While not exactly the kind of defensive midfielder we are looking for, Ramsey is someone who can run all day long. There used to be this Iranian national player who used to play in the S-League who was nick-named “man with 6 lungs” for his outstanding stamina. I think Ramsey can match him for that. Ramsey has a lot of attacking instincts while at the same time he tracks back often and nips into tackles. His tackling needs improving but he is slowly getting there. It is also funny to me that his long-range passing seem to be more accurate than his short passes. If he can improve his composure on the ball and hold the ball better, he can be a real menance in the centre of the pitch. He actually reminds me a little of Bryan Robson – Ramsey is a younger, fitter and more robust version. He has the right physical strengths, so expect to see more of him this coming season especially now that Wenger seem to be closing his chequebook.
10 – Armand Traore played as leftback for the first time in pre-season.
Yes, he played as leftback against SC Columbia but he eventually ended up further up-field as the game progressed. In this game, he was leftback throughout the time he was on the field. I must say he really impressed with his robust tackling and his excellent crossing. I’ve almost forgotten how well he crosses the ball and this game reminded me again with that excellent and precise cross for Bendtner to head home. Looks like our leftback position is well covered and Traore can double up as a left winger, and he is more of a natural left winger than anyone else in the squad. When Newcastle almost won the title during the Keegan era, Keith Gillespie and Les Ferdinand were the main reasons why. Gillespie must have crossed millions for Ferdinand to head home throughout that season. Maybe we can create our own unique formula with Traore and Bendtner? One can only hope.
So with the third friendly having gone so smoothly, Wenger must be thinking we really won’t need another signing and that might be worrying in some ways. I still maintain we need just ONE midfielder to make it a complete squad. We might not get that, and if we don’t, it is not the end of the world. We just have to stick it out with our players.
Onward to the next game!
P.S. My buddy Marcus, who is a mad Liverpool fan, has caught the Liverpool game against my country Singapore at our national stadium and was quoted by our local newspapers. Congrats, bro! Enjoy your 15 minutes haha!