Monday, July 30, 2012

Asia Tour

Arsenal's pre-season Asia tour ended with a 2-2 draw with Kitchee FC on Sunday, which made the total results 1 win, 1 defeat and 1 draw. Many question the significance of Asia tour as preparation for the new season. The players have to travel a long way and acclimatise themselves. The pitches are often not perfect. They have disadvantages against their local opponents in terms of match fitness and jet lag. They also have to engage in promotional activities, such as signing sessions and local events, with little time to spare for training. The local teams have nothing to lose, while it is a huge honour if they beat Arsenal, whatever side Arsenal field. On the other hand, if Arsenal lose, it is a blow to their confidence and discredit as the games are aired all around the world.

Quite honestly, Arsene Wenger would rather his players train in a cool and quiet Austrian town and play pre-season matches against European teams as Arsenal did until the last year, if pre-season were all about preparation for the new season. Cynical people may call the tour a marketing ploy, but it was a great opportunity for Arsenal fans in Asia to watch their heroes play in front of them and make them feel welcome and adored. In that sense, this Asia tour was a great success. Arsenal attracted a huge crowd everywhere they went and their supporters were louder than the local team fans or Man City fans. Well done to our fellow supporters in Asia. They showed the world that Arsenal were a well-supported club. It was great to see Vermaelen get cheers even on the bench, when the camera showed him on the screen in the Hong Kong Stadium. Arsenal also showed that they care about their fans through the shirts with the players' names in Chinese characters and the banner shown at the end of the game in Beijing. Manchester City didn't take all this trouble. It was just another pre-season match and minor trophy for them.

As for the games, they were the same old stories. Arsenal defence was vulnerable to counter-attacks, while their attack failed to produce results due to poor finishes. Especially, both flanks were horribly exposed, when the opponents started quick counter-attacks with long balls. That's something Arsenal need to address.

On the positive note, there was something new we haven't seen for a long time: quite a few players, including Jenkinson, tried shots from the outside of the box, particularly in the Man City match. Theo's efforts were not too far off. He must have been encouraged by his goal against Sweden in the Euros.

We have two key defenders and two main attackers (we no longer count RVP in our attacking force for the coming season) left at home, with only Chamakh and Afobe as recognisable strikers in this tour. There is expected to be a behind-the-closed-door match before the start of the season, in addition to a game against FC Cologne scheduled on 12 August. Hopefully, all the players, including the two new signings, will get fit and sharp by the time the new season arrives on 18 August. (Recent news reports suggest that Giroud and Podolski are unlikely to feature in the opening game as Wenger intends to ease them into the vigour of the Premier League.)

Following is the round-up of some players' performances:

Gervinho: He has had a good pre-season so far, by scoring against Southampton and making a difference when he came on the pitch against KitChee. His skills, pace and timing of his runs were outstanding. Perhaps, strong competition from Podolski over a starting place on the left wing has sparked his form. His first season was somewhat disappointing, but we are quite sure that he will contribute more to Arsenal's cause in the coming season.

Benik Afobe: There is expectation among Arsenal fans that he is most likely to break into the first team this season as the Fans' Forum Opinion Poll on site shows, but he is far off the first-team standards. He missed two clear-cut chances in the Kitchee game, which would have won us the game. We already have Bendtner to miss such sitters. He didn't impress us.

Chucks Aneke: He may be a better prospect than Afobe as far as the the pre-season games in Asia are concerned. He made a couple of good attempts for goal in two games. Nevertheless, he is still not ready for the first-team starting line-up.

Thomas Eisfeld: A neat player. He is always where he should be and composed in front of goal. Scoring two goals during his short appearances in the Asia tour, he looks a better prospect that any other Arsenal's young talent.

Carl Jenkinson: This pre-season is very important for him and Arsenal as we will have to do without Sagna at the season opening (probably the first couple of games). He was caught out of position several times against Man City, one of which led to Man City's first goal. He must have learned lessons from the experience as he looked more solid against Kitchee (certainly better than Eastmond), with good awareness of his position when he went forward. Made a great low cross in Hong Kong, which nearly led to a winner.

Andre Santos: He played as a left winger in the games in Malaysia and Beijing. Arsene Wenger tried this in the last few games of the last season, but there are plenty of options on the left wing as Gervinho, Podolski, Chamberlain, Ryo, and Arshavin (if he stays) can all play there. As we need a specialist left-back to cover for injury-prone Kieran Gibbs, it is better that Santos improves his defence rather than learning the trade as a left winger. He actually played better as a left-back in the second half against Kitchee.

Alex Oxlaide Chamberlain: He made an impact against Man City, when he came on the pitch as a central midfielder and then went quiet when he moved to the left wing. Although he was not so influential next time when he took the central midfield position 48 hours later, this position certainly looks good for him. Now Rosicky is set to miss the start of the season, Ox-Arteta-Song is a possible midfield set-up if Arsenal stick to the 4-3-3 formation this season and depending on how Ramsey's fitness level will turn out after the Olympic Games.

Abu Diaby: He played OK against Man City, but was poor against Kitchee. He is not sharp enough to start yet. Arsenal Wenger said he is like a new signing for Arsenal, as well as Wilshere. He always rates the French midfielder highly. Hope the boss proves to be right.

By the way, does anybody have any idea where Henry Lansbury is? Since he scored against Anderlecht in the Markus Liebherr Cup, he seems to have vanished. He was not in the Asia tour squad, nor in reserves games. His name was not included the first-team squad number confirmation announced last week.

Arsene Wenger made it clear that he is still looking for one or two more new signings. So let's hope there will be more quality players to be added before the transfer market closes. The latest transfer rumours link Arsenal with Malaga's Cazorla and Nuri Sahin on loan from Real Madrid.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The 2012/13 Fixtures

Arsenal's 2012/13 season kicks off at the Emirates against Sunderland. The following is the up-to-date fixture list as of 13 July 2012, including all the League Cup (which is apparently called the Capital One Cup this season), the UEFA Champions League and FA Cup dates.

The first six Premier-League games look tough, especially with those against Manchester City and Chelsea sandwiched by the Champions League games, but they are in the same situation. Away games at the Britania Stadium are always difficult. However, with the two major summer signings joining the rest of the squad from the beginning of the pre-season, they should have enough time to settle in and we should be able to avoid the repeat of the last season's disastrous start. For that reason, we have to sort out the RVP situation quickly. If he leaves (we think Arsenal should sell him for the right price), we have to re-invest the proceeds from his sale into a new player or two and give the team time to gel together. If we had had those deadline signings from the beginning of the pre-season, we could have challenged for the title last season.

Over the period from January to early February, when we usually suffer a drop in form, we will have the almost identical run of games as at the beginning of the season, only in a different order. If we are fighting on the all four fronts, January could prove to be a very hectic month. The whole squad needs to stay fit and sharp over this period.

The last match of the season is an away game against Newcastle, which won't be easy, but hopefully, whatever is at stake at that time (the title would be nice), it should have been decided before the last game. We certainly don't want the situation where everything hangs on this match. It is a shame that the last game is away again as I always like the end-of-the-season lap of appreciation to take place after the end of the last game. The lap of appreciation after the end of the penultimate game is not the same. This is going to be the third last game of the season away in a row.

Other dates to note are north London derbies: Saturday 17 November at home 12:45 (English time) kick-off and Saturday 2 March at the White Hart Lane (this game is highly likely to be rescheduled for the convenience of TV companies). Our annual Benidorm trip may be organised around the time of the latter match as we did earlier this year. Alternatively, if we go all the way, the Capital One Cup final on Sunday 24 February could be the focal point of our Benidorm trip next year as it was in 2011.

At the Las Mimosas bar, our usual venue, games against Manchester United are as big as north London derbies as there is rivalry between us and Man U fans. These dates are Saturday 3 November at Old Trafford and Saturday 27 April at home.

Lastly, we don't like to look too far ahead, but cannot help mentioning that the reward of going all the way to the final in the Champions League this season is playing in the Wembly Stadium. Flying into London to watch Arsenal in the Champions League final would be the highlight of the coming season for us without doubt.

Come on you, Gunners!!

Please note that we have an updated fixture list on 2012/13 fixtures update on this blog.

14Jul Pre-season FriendlyASouthampton 20:00
(This is a 45 minute match)
14Jul Pre-season FriendlyAAnderlecht 18:45
(This is a 45 minute match)
24Jul Pre-season FriendlyAMalaysia XI 21:45 ESPN
27Jul Pre-season FriendlyNManchester City 13:00 ESPN
29Jul Pre-season FriendlyNKitchee FC 10:00 ESPN
12Aug Pre-season FriendlyAFC Cologne 16:00 ESPN
18Sat Barclays Premier LeagueHSunderland 15:00
26Sun Barclays Premier LeagueAStoke City 13:30 SS1
02Sun Barclays Premier LeagueALiverpool 13:30 SS1
15Sat Barclays Premier LeagueHSouthampton 15:00
18/19UEFA Champions LeagueNMatchday 1 19:45
23Sun Barclays Premier LeagueAManchester City 16:00 SS1
26Wed Capital One CupNRound 3
29Sat Barclays Premier LeagueHChelsea 12:45 SS1
2/3UEFA Champions LeagueNMatchday 2 19:45
06Sat Barclays Premier LeagueAWest Ham United 17:30 ESPN
20Sat Barclays Premier LeagueANorwich 17:30 ESPN
23/24UEFA Champions LeagueNMatchday 3 19:45
27Sat Barclays Premier LeagueHQPR 15:00
31Wed Capital One CupNRound 4
03Sat Barclays Premier LeagueAManchester United 12:45 SS1
6/7UEFA Champions LeagueNMatchday 4 19:45
10Sat Barclays Premier LeagueHFulham 15:00
17Sat Barclays Premier LeagueHTottenham Hotspur 12:45 SS1
20/21UEFA Champions LeagueNMatchday 5 19:45
24Sat Barclays Premier LeagueAAston Villa 17:30 ESPN
28Wed Barclays Premier LeagueAEverton 19:45
01Sat Barclays Premier LeagueHSwansea 15:00
4/5UEFA Champions LeagueNMatchday 6 19:45
08Sat Barclays Premier LeagueHW.B.A. 15:00
12Wed Capital One CupNQuarter-Final
15Sat Barclays Premier LeagueAReading 15:00
22Sat Barclays Premier LeagueAWigan Athletic 15:00
26Wed Barclays Premier LeagueHWest Ham United 15:00
29Sat Barclays Premier LeagueHNewcastle United 15:00
01Tue Barclays Premier LeagueASouthampton 15:00
05Sat The FA CupNRound 3
09Wed Capital One CupNSemi-Final 1L
12Sat Barclays Premier LeagueHManchester City 15:00
19Sat Barclays Premier LeagueAChelsea 15:00
23Wed Capital One CupNSemi-Final 2L
26Sat The FA CupNRound 4
30Wed Barclays Premier LeagueHLiverpool 19:45
02Sat Barclays Premier LeagueHStoke City 15:00
09Sat Barclays Premier LeagueASunderland 15:00
12/13/19/20UEFA Champions LeagueNRound of 16 1L 19:45
16Sat The FA CupNRound 5
23Sat Barclays Premier LeagueHAston Villa 15:00
24Sun Capital One CupNFinal
02Sat Barclays Premier LeagueATottenham Hotspur 15:00
5/6/12/13UEFA Champions LeagueNRound of 16 2L 19:45
09Sat Barclays Premier LeagueHEverton 15:00
(or FA Cup 6th Round)
16Sat Barclays Premier LeagueASwansea 15:00
30Sat Barclays Premier LeagueHReading 15:00
2/3UEFA Champions LeagueNQuarter-Final 1L 19:45
06Sat Barclays Premier LeagueAW.B.A. 15:00
9/10UEFA Champions LeagueNQuarter-Final 2L 19:45
13Sat Barclays Premier LeagueHNorwich 15:00
(or FA Cup Semi-Final)
20Sat Barclays Premier LeagueAFulham 15:00
23/24UEFA Champions LeagueNSemi-Final 1L 19:45
27Sat Barclays Premier LeagueHManchester United 15:00
30/1UEFA Champions LeagueNSemi-Final 2L 19:45
04Sat Barclays Premier LeagueAQPR 15:00
11Sat The FA CupNFinal
12Sun Barclays Premier LeagueHWigan Athletic 15:00
(to be rearranged if Arsenal or Wigan play in FA Cup final)
19Sun Barclays Premier LeagueANewcastle United 15:00
25Sat UEFA Champions LeagueNFinal 19:45
(at Wembley Stadium)

Note: All kick-off times are UK time.
Source: site.