After matches in Malaysia, China and Germany, Arsenal fans in England will get the chance to see how the squad are shaping up for the new season first-hand, with the annual Emirates Cup.
Since its introduction to the pre-season calendar in 2007, I’ve always been a fan of the tournament, even if it leads to other fans joking that we had to make our own trophy to win something. Whereas our friendlies so far have seen wholesale changes during the game, the Emirates Cup line-ups will have longer on the pitch to show how they’re looking ahead of the season. It’ll be more competitive than previous friendlies and will give a better indication of the fitness of the squad.
Whilst the weekend will give fans a good chance to see the team in action on the pitch, off the pitch, the transfer rumours of both ins and outs continue to dominate national newspapers and the internet. With no new centre back signed, and rumours flying around about Juan Mata, it’s still hard to know who will be in the squad by the end of August. Questions also remain over the existence of Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Manuel Almunia, Emmanuel Eboue and Nicklas Bendtner as Arsenal players.
I’ll get on to discuss the various annoying transfer sagas later, but initially I’ll focus on the actual football. Our last friendly was on Saturday, as part of the training camp in Germany. Bundesliga side Cologne were beaten 2-1 with Gervinho scoring both goals in his first appearance in an Arsenal shirt. With a few questions from some fans and critics about if Gervinho was a player we needed, he has made a good first impression with a couple of excellent finishes and some dangerous running from the left.
Our other new signing in this close season also got on the score sheet in Germany. Carl Jenkinson’s own goal was pretty spectacular as he inadvertently lobbed Wojciech Szczesny with a right footed volley from 25 yards. I’d much rather he produced such an error in pre-season instead of in a competitive game. It struck me after the game that a lot of non-Arsenal fans focussed on the fact Jenkinson scored this own goal, and immediately saw it as ammunition to laugh at Arsene Wenger. However, they seemed to ignore that his major signing scored two quality goals. Obviously Gervinho needs more time before we can judge him as an Arsenal player, but early signs are excellent.
Gervinho should get his first run out at the Emirates Stadium this weekend in the Emirates Cup. Personally, I’m excited to see him after what he showed fans in Cologne. With Theo Walcott unlikely to appear with an ankle injury, Gervinho will probably have to play longer than he might otherwise have done. Expectations of him shouldn’t be high despite the goals in Germany. For the fans, hopefully the Emirates Cup will show that Gervinho will fit in well by linking up well with the likes of van Persie and Wilshere, and gives us hope for the forthcoming season.
The two day tournament, which is live on ESPN in the UK, sees the New York Red Bulls play Paris Saint-Germain before Arsenal face Boca Juniors on Saturday. PSG are against Boca Juniors on Sunday with Arsenal finishing the tournament against the New York Red Bulls. PSG are almost Emirates Cup veterans with three appearances in the competition, and with their new investment in the team, they should be interesting to watch even though they don’t play Arsenal.
Argentina’s Boca Juniors will provide a fresh challenge for Arsenal on the Saturday. Like me, most Gooners in the UK will know little about Boca, apart from that they’re extremely successful in their domestic competitions, and they have Juan Roman Riquelme. His name immediately brings back the good memories of Jens Lehmann plunging to his left to save a Riquelme penalty against Villarreal in 2006 to send Arsenal into the Champions League final. I’d think Boca will be looking to put on a good show for the European audience, and will probably provide Arsenal with their toughest test of the weekend.
The obvious appeal of the New York Red Bulls is Thierry Henry. A number of the current squad could learn a lot from the great man. Clearly he isn’t in the right condition to return to Arsenal as a player, but his return with the Red Bulls at the weekend should improve the mood of Arsenal fans. Although it could also increase the sense of things not being as good as they used to be. Realistically, Arsenal should beat the New Yorkers on the Sunday, but they shouldn’t be underestimated. They’ll be out to show that the MLS has improved, and it will be the biggest stage that some of their players have played on. Ahead of the tournament, here’s a couple of links to increase the nostalgia ahead of Thierry’s return. This one has all of his goals and this should be read by most of the current squad, if just for the quotes at the end. All fans going to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday or Sunday need to show their appreciation to the great man, as now we’re feeling starved of success, we can appreciate the incredible things he did for Arsenal Football Club.
I’m looking forward to the tournament, and despite my initial concerns it would be played out to a half full stadium, ticket sales have picked up. There’s always a good atmosphere in the ground as a lot of fans who can’t usually see the team get the chance to come. Having a couple of games at the Emirates Stadium before the season starts definitely helps build anticipation for the new season, and although it’s only a pre-season tournament, getting in the habit of winning and lifting a trophy can be no bad thing.
So this weekend should be good on the pitch. However, there are still numerous stories, rumours and transfer sagas that are dragging on off the pitch. Honestly, I’m getting bored of it. Unfortunately, I doubt they’ll go away until we either sign a centre back or sell Cesc Fabregas.
The majority of the rumours about players coming into the club have centred on Juan Mata of Valencia. A number of reports surfaced saying he was on the verge of joining the club, but as reported by Soccernet today, Valencia have said they haven’t had an offers for the midfielder. I’m unsure about him as a signing, mainly because we’re becoming overcrowded in his position. Should Fabregas and Nasri stay, then we’d have Walcott, Nasri, Arshavin, Gervinho, Rosicky, Vela and Miyaichi who can play as attacking wingers. He’s definitely a good player but there are other areas of the squad need more urgent reinforcements.
One of those areas is still central defence. I’m disappointed we haven’t signed a new centre back so far in this transfer window, as the longer we wait, the higher the prices will become for our targets. Reading various reports and rumours suggests that one or all of Gary Cahill, Chris Samba or Phil Jagielka are being targeted by Arsene Wenger to improve our back line. Should one of those be brought in before the start of the season to add to Gervinho and Jenkinson, then that could be considered a decent transfer window, even without Mata.
Should Fabregas or Nasri leave, than Mata would be a good signing. Nasri is looking increasingly likely to stay with Wenger taking a tough stance over him going to a title rival, whilst Barcelona continue to not stump up the required money for Cesc Fabregas. It will be intriguing to see if Fabregas plays in the Emirates Cup, although I doubt he will due to his recurring muscle problem. We have to assume that he isn’t going to go to Barcelona, as I believe that if they were really serious about signing him, then they’d have done it ages ago. Fabregas has to get on the pitch soon and get some match fitness as we have a really tough start to the season and need our best players available. At least with Nasri, he’s appeared in pre-season and should be ready if he doesn’t move.
Nicklas Bendtner does seem set to seal a move away from Arsenal soon with reports in Portugal saying he’ll join Sporting Lisbon. There have also been stories that Emmanuel Eboue could go to Galatasaray. As I’ve written before, it’s best for everyone that Nicklas Bendtner moves on, however I’d be gutted to see Emmanuel Eboue leave. Unlike a lot of the current squad, he gives 100% when playing and loves the club. Although he might rarely play, I think it’d be worth keeping him in the squad as he is a massive contributor to team morale. Even if Eboue carries the drinks or wears the Gunnersaurus costume, I’d like to see him stay at the club.
The Emirates Cup weekend will be a good distraction from the transfer sagas, however it won’t banish them. I fear that fans will be pestered by them until the end of the transfer window, but with the season starting before that, we must try and resolve them soon or it could have a negative effect on our tough opening.
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