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.

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