Arsenal fans got their first sight of the team at Ashburton Grove over the weekend as the Gunners staged, and won, the Emirates Cup.
As much as the club might try to hype the tournament, these were still preseason warm-up games and, as good as it is to get an early look at the players, there is not much we can deduce for the coming season from these matches. Still, the stadium was pretty much sold out on both days which only goes to show the appetite of the fans as we all wait for the Premier League to get going again. There are only two weeks to go but it still feels an age away as the close-season drags on interminably.
Marouane Chamakh Get His First Home Goal
There were a couple of talking points from the weekend though, the first of which was Marouane Chamakh's first home goal. The preseason matches have shown him to be something of a target man and hold-up striker but he showed some good composure when rolling home his finish in Saturday's match against AC Milan. The Moroccan will add some height and physical presence to the frontline - a task that was left solely to Nicklas Bendtner last season - and it is going to be really interesting to see how he combines with Robin Van Persie when the Dutchman returns from his summer break.
The other interesting aspect coming out of the weekend was Arsene Wenger’s statement that he would not be sending Jack Wilshere and Emmanuel Frimpong out on loan this season. Instead, they will be assimilated into the first team squad and given their chance. Many Arsenal fans will be very happy to hear this news. Both are top-class prospects and the only way they will reach their full potential is if Arsene Wenger brings them on in the way that he did with Cesc Fabregas.
This piece of news also contained the comment that Wenger had considered buying a midfielder but will now not do so in the light of the decision to include Wilshere and Frimpong in the squad. Other Arsenal fans will be less delighted with this caveat as many believe that an experienced defensive-minded midfielder was needed. However, Frimpong is a highly physical player who will make tackles all day. He might lack experience but he proved over the weekend he is no respecter of reputations and has no fear. He will be a more than capable deputy back-up for Alex Song and, though the manager’s decision represents a risk, there are areas of the team that need attention ahead of the midfield. Chief amongst these is the centre of defence and the ongoing goalkeeping saga.
Following the departures of Sol Campbell, William Gallas and Mikael Silvestre, the Gunners are definitely short of numbers at the back. It is no great surprise that this trio have moved on - we knew that was likely to be the case before the end of last season - but, with only Laurent Koscielny coming in, the clock is ticking on finding replacements. Though the transfer window stays open for another month, it would be better to have some new recruits in place before the start of the season. As always, Arsene Wenger is not giving much away but even he recognises that reinforcing this area of the team is a priority and has said as much.
The manager seems far less clear though about what is going on with his goalkeepers. Of the four he has to choose from at the moment, he doesn’t seem to have a clue who his number one would be - nor his number two, three or four. It seems patently clear to the supporters that new blood is required between the sticks and that none of Almunia, Fabianski or Mannone really inspire too much confidence. All had their chances in varying degrees last season and none really took the bull by the horns and commanded the right to be number one. Though there has been much talk about Wojciech Szczesny, he hasn’t been given the sort of game-time in preseason that suggests that the manager is about to promote him up the order.
So far this summer, more players have left than joined and there has been very little to get excited about on the transfer front. Hopefully, Wenger will make a few moves soon because it was clear at the end of last season that the squad needed bolstering and that has not happened to the degree that is required for the Gunners to really have a serious chance of taking the title.
Last season, Arsenal finished eleven points behind Chelsea and ten points behind Manchester United. The season before, they were eighteen points adrift of the eventual Champions. That could be construed as something of an improvement over the past couple of years made by roughly the same squad. However, another big step up has to be taken this season if the Gunners are going to win their first league title since the year of The Invincibles back in 2003/04. Without further signings, particularly in defence, it is hard to see where a further ten or fifteen points are going to be found this season - and that is what is required for a serious tilt at top spot.
Should we be thinking of improvement in these terms? Well, on the basis of how often over the years Arsene Wenger has told us how many points he predicts it would take to win the title, I believe so. And points are going to be even harder to come by this season with Manchester City throwing money round like it is going out of style and putting themselves in the picture at the top end of the table.
It has been a deathly dull preseason so far but hopefully the manager take some action over the next couple of weeks that will fire a bit more optimism, and maybe some even expectation, that the season that will end with something more than just a top-four finish.