So Arsenal kicked off their pre-season preparations with two relatively comfortable victories, the first being the traditional curtain raiser at Underhill, home of Barnet and our reserves. I had the pleasure of viewing these games for the first time via my new Arsenal TV online subscription after much harrying from my mate. At £45 a year, or £3.99 a month, it's well worth the money, especially with the "50 Greatest Gunner Moments" countdown that's currently going on. But I digress, back to the friendlies.
The starting lineups for both games were very similar, with the only difference (off the top of my head) being the debut of Bacary Sagna in the second game, replacing the returning Kerrea Gilbert from the team that took the field against Barnet. In short, the Barnet game saw a whole host of changes, which definitely disrupted the flow of the game. Eventually we ran out 2-0 victors thanks to goals either side of half-time from Emmanuel Adebayor and a howitzer from young Dutchster Nacer Barazite. The most impressive Gooner was Theo Walcott, who looked very fresh and direct, giving good penetration down the right-wing, something we lacked very much towards the back end of last season.
The second match (see how I'm avoiding typing the oppositions name out?) had a much more different feel to it. We started sloppily, Manuel Almunia being forced into a very early save, and then the opposition’s striker waltzing through our defence before hitting the post within the first 10 minutes. This ease with which they split us open was a worry – is it because it’s pre-season? Or because Alex Song really isn’t up to standard?
Things brightened up soon after, with Robin van Persie blasting over from 6 yards from an Adebayor cut-back, and then seeing a decent curled attempt saved a few moments later. I’m looking forward to seeing these two continue to forge a decent partnership, they looked good together last year, each one seemingly knowing their roles and never getting in the other’s way. The remainder of the half was scrappy (with the exception of another van Persie attempt) and was seemingly petering out to a drab goalless first 45 minutes, until the impressive Walcott picked the ball up near the halfway line on his wing, outstripped his man, and sent a low cross to the back post, where Robin arrived to tuck it away on the stroke of half-time. A goal eerily similar to the one which saw him pick up his metatarsal break.
Watching on through the comfort of my laptop, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of changes – would Wenger stick with the majority of this team for another 20 minutes? Or would he change it en masse? Thankfully he opted for the former.
The players came out and looked sharper, and the continuity in the play was much better. This I reckon was largely due to the fact that I alluded to above – there were only three outfield changes at half-time – two of which were at full-back. The third change was Tomas Rosicky on for Mark Randall, whose style of play reminds me of David Bentley - I wonder if he has his arrogance too? In the first 5 minutes of the second-half Theo had a shot blocked by the keeper and Adebayor sent a "typical Henry finish" agonisingly wide, before an Adebayor ball into the box was cleverly stepped over by the quietly effective Denilson, running through to Theo at the back post who finished very well indeed.
The third and final goal came courtesy of our Flying Dutchman, Rockin’ Robin sliding home with his weaker foot from an Adebayor square ball. In this game Robin scored two similar goals, finishing off team moves at the back post. We know all about his individually ability to score wonder goals – if he can keep adding this "poacher’s" string to his bow then we have a very special player on our hands.
Then came the changes. Unlike Saturday, it wasn’t a bunch of talented kids that came on, but the senior members of the squad who hadn’t taken part against Barnet. The likes of Alex Hleb, Freddie Ljungberg, our Cesc and Swiss duo Senderos and Djourou got a valuable 20 mintues. It also saw the introduction of Eduardo Da Silva alongside Nicklas Bendtner up front. The ‘Crozillian’ looked like he had a good touch – infinitely better than our last no.9 – and pulled wide a few times to good effect, putting in some decent early crosses. However, he looks slight. With a physique like that, Wenger may be tempted deploy him on the left of a 4-3-3
Of the substitutes, the player who stood out most for me though was Abou Diaby, who put in a serious of good tackles and marauding runs, linking up well with Cesc and looking more and more like a certain PV4. I wish the same could be said of Freddie – there was one passage of play in the second-half where he played the ball infield and didn’t make the run for the return pass – symptomatic of his decline over the past few seasons. I love him to bits, he almost single-handedly dragged us over the finishing line in 2002, but his loss of pace and the loss Bergkamp is really hurting his play.
The undoubted star of the first two games was Theo, whose close control and running with the ball at pace seems to be improving each game. More importantly, his decision making seems to be getting better too. A special mention must go to both keepers who looked very safe over both games. Lukasz Fabianski looks very brave, and bears an uncanny resemblance to Rosicky in my eyes. Sagna too had a good outing, getting forward well and looking solid at the back. If he has half the mentality of Lauren, he’ll do well.
Hopefully I’ll be back with a report of the next game against Salzburg, before going to the first day of the Emirates Cup and then departing for a long weekend of debauchery, drinks and Da Silva in Amsterdam.