Arsenal’s first tour of Asia in over 10 years is complete, and undoubtedly will be considered a success off the pitch. However, questions remain on it about certain members of the squad. Realistically, the on field action wasn’t going to be the most important aspect of the tour, and the results weren’t as important as gaining match fitness, however some performances won’t have eased some fans’ fears ahead of the new season.
There was good news on arrival back from Asia as there was the shock news of Arsenal finally completing a major signing. Gervinho is now officially a Gooner, a week after it was confirmed that an agreement was in place. With that deal now put to bed, most Arsenal fans will hope and expect Arsene Wenger to focus attentions on signing a much needed centre-back.
In Asia, pre-season was kicked off by a 4-0 victory over the Malaysian national side, with Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott, Carlos Vela and Tomas Rosicky getting on the score sheet. That was followed three days later by a 1-1 draw with Hangzhou Greentown in China as Vela made it two goals in two games.
The Malaysian game saw a better showing from Arsenal, with Aaron Ramsey the stand out performer. It was also the first time Ryo Miyaichi has appeared in an Arsenal shirt, and he looked promising on the left wing. Malaysia rarely tested the Arsenal defence, however the next opponents in China, Hangzhou Greentown, gave the Gunners’ back line similar problems to last season.
In the second match of the Asia tour, the hosts’ goal came from a set piece. Vito Mannone didn’t deal with the cross and Sebastien Squillaci put in a poor attempt to block the resulting shot. Admittedly, both Mannone and Squillaci won’t be first choice in their position next season, however it is worrying to see the same mistakes being made at the back after they cost the team so dearly last season. It wasn’t just the goal that caused alarm bells at the back as Squillaci and Djourou didn’t look comfortable playing together.
Things undoubtedly improved in the second half when Thomas Vermaelen was playing, but all this served to emphasise, was how important the Belgian will be to Arsenal’s success this season. I still think Johan Djourou could play well with Vermaelen, but when paired with Squillaci the Swiss international looks like a disaster waiting to happen. Arsenal fans have been saying it all summer; an experienced centre-back should be signed to partner Vermaelen, with Koscielny and Djourou left as good replacements should either of the first choice pair be unavailable. Even though he was only signed last season, I think Squillaci should leave if a new defender is signed, as realistically he’ll become the fifth choice centre back.
Now the Gervinho signing is wrapped up, Wenger should be able to focus all transfer market attention on a defender. We might have to pay slightly over the odds to get the right man in, but hopefully the impending sales of Almunia and Bendtner will give the club enough extra cash to secure the signing the fans have been desperate for since January.
Quotes from one of Wenger’s press conferences in Asia about not being defensively weak has got me slightly worried that he is going off the idea of a new centre back, but the Greentown friendly will have hopefully replanted the seed of doubt about his current crop of defenders.
Should a new centre back be brought in, and if Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri stay at the club, I’ll be content with the summer dealings. There will still be areas in the squad where improvement could be made, but it won’t be classified as a bad summer. With Denilson, Almunia and Bendtner looking increasingly likely to leave, some fans will be disappointed if we only signed three players (Jenkinson, Gervinho and hopefully a defender). However if Fabregas and Nasri stay then I think the squad will be in a good enough position to stay challenging at the top of the league.
Off the pitch, the Asia tour was definitely a success. It enabled fans in that part of the world to see the team, and opened the squad’s eyes to the size and importance of the club globally. Commercially, the hope will be that as a result of the tour, Arsenal can attract fresh sponsorship, more fans and help establish the club as a global brand. Judging by the reaction of the players and the pictures from the tour, Arsenal are clearly massive in Asia, and if the tour helped keep those fans engaged with the club and interested in Arsenal, then a similar pre-season trip next year can’t be a bad thing.
From a football point of view, it’s good to have got the tour done early on in pre-season, so as the team don’t have any long distance trips just before the new season. The four remaining friendlies see Arsenal play Cologne in Germany, Boca Juniors and New York Red Bulls at home in the Emirates Cup before finishing in Portugal against Benfica. All four matches will provide us with a better idea of what shape Arsenal are in before the new season, and hopefully will be a chance to see Gervinho, a new centre back and Cesc Fabregas in Arsenal shirts.
I’ll finish this blog with another story Cesc Fabregas-to-Barcelona story. Along with Samir Nasri stories, they’re all over the media. Whether it’s Xavi, Pique, Cryuff or Wenger, most people associated with Arsenal and Barcelona are having their say. However this story caught my eye.
The Mayor of Cesc Fabregas’ home town is reported to have said that Cesc has effectively been kidnapped, that Arsene Wenger is ‘clowning around’ and that Arsenal should ‘behave properly’. Well, if Cesc has been kidnapped, Barcelona haven’t tried hard enough over the last eight years to get him back. Realistically, Arsene isn’t clowning around as he isn’t the one prolonging the saga by not stumping up the money or admitting they aren’t going to do so. Finally, Arsenal aren’t the team using the media to try and unsettle another team’s player.
It’s those sort of laughable quotes that makes me think Fabregas will stay at Arsenal, as if Barcelona were truly serious about signing our skipper, it would have been better for everyone to have just got it done. They need to stump up the ransom payment for Cesc or we’ll keep our ‘kidnapped’ captain for another year.
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