Thursday, August 1, 2013

2013 Asia Tour

Compared to the 2012 Asia Tour, which left quite a few fans doubtful or critical about the meaning of the tour, the 2013 Asia Tour was an unqualified success. It was perhaps largely attributed to the outcomes of the matches played there, four wins out of four. The convincing wins in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Nagoya boosted the players' confidence, while they lifted a first trophy this season after the hard-fought win over Urawa Reds. Arsenal were crowned as only the third European winners of the Saitama City Cup, after Barcelona and Lukas Podolski-inspired Bayern Munich.

Arsenal were received very well everywhere. Arsene Wenger stated that it was as if they had been playing at home when they played against the national team in Indonesia. Stadium-record attendance was recorded at the Toyota Stadium in Nagoya. Every time Miyaichi got the ball, it was met with cheers from his local fans. Although home fans were more vocal in Urawa, the friendly attracted capacity crowd again. The tour was an excellent chance for relatively new players from abroad, such as Giroud and Poldi, as well as youngsters, to appreciate how big and well-supported Arsenal are across the world.

The players seemed to have enjoyed promotional events, sightseeing and fan parties. Also, the tour made one supporter in Vietnam, "the Running Man", not only a national media star, but a global internet sensation.

In terms of preparation for the new season, the tour was more successful than last year. Wenger's men were put through the paces, double training sessions a day at times. Although the conditions were as hard as last year with heat and humidity, the players looked much sharper this year. The friendly matches were well arranged. As the tour went on, they faced harder oppositions, providing them with good tests.

There were some interesting experiments carried out as well. Sagna played as a centre-back in light of the prospect for the start of the season without Vermaelen. Chuks Aneke, who was an attacking midfielder before he left Arsenal for Crew Alexandra on loan, was slotted into a central defensive role before he played in the more familiar central midfield against Nagoya Grampus. Wenger explained he has composure and height to play at centre-back, but the shortage in number in that department was clearly in Wenger's mind.

Iggy Miquel played more minutes as a left-back than in his natural centre-back position. In fact, he played the whole 90 minutes in the last game of the tour, with our only specialist left-back, Gibbs left on the bench. Obviously, Wenger was looking at the possibility to use Miquel as a back-up left-back, following the news that Monreal was set to miss the start of the season due to a back injury. Given  Gibbs' injury record, having no back-up is a worrying outlook, especially when even our usual makeshift left-back, Vermaelen is also sidelined. The Ox was deployed throughout the tour as a central midfielder, a position that the 19-year-old is thought to play on a regular basis in the future, and he lived up to the expectations.

Giroud's finishing has remarkably improved, bagging a hat-trick against the Vietnamese national team. On the other hand, Theo Walcott's finishing has been woeful this pre-season. If the Englishman had been more clinical, we could have beaten Urawa Reds more comfortably. In fact, the game should have been put to bed by the end of the first half. Married life has done nothing for his football, while parenthood appears to have inspired Giroud.

A German U-16 international, Gedion Zelalem, caused a hype after his vision and passing ability impressed in the first three games. His name was often mentioned in the same breath as Fabregas because of his precocious talent. However, he failed to shine against stronger opponents in the shape of Urawa Reds, who gave him little time and space on the ball. This is obviously where he needs to improve.

Wilshere was gradually getting back to his fitness, although it is still a question which role is most suited to him. Rosicky, who also missed last pre-season, looked sharp. The Indonesian game showcased Ramsey's mesmerizing technical ability, e.g., pirouette and back heel pass, while the Welshman's workrate impressed throughout the tour. Chuba Akpom proved to be a bright prospect, scoring four goals in four appearances. Other youngsters, Gnabry, Olsson and Eisfeld, all looked promising.

On the other hand, Miquel was not totally convincing as a left-back. We need to keep Gibbs in cotton wool until Monreal returns. Fabianski's erratic performance reminded us how he earned a nickname, Flappy-hand-ski. Szczesny needs a stronger competition.

Overall, it was good preparation for the new season, while we hope that Wenger is not so naive to believe that the current squad can beat any Prem team as easily as they did during the tour, without a new signing or two. Maybe the Emirates Cup this weekend could finally wake up the Frenchman.

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