August 9, 2013

Eight days.

That is all that remains in a close-season that has been both eventful (Premier League managerial merry-go-round, Asia Tour, outgoing players) and excruciatingly uneventful (new signings).

The Asia Tour was very successful from a Club perspective – both on and off the pitch – and very enjoyable from the fans' perspective. We saw some great performances by a number of players and we came away with a perfect record.

But the competition started to get much more difficult last weekend when we hosted the Emirates Cup, featuring Napoli, Galatasary and Porto. In our first match – against Napoli – we faced our biggest test to date. The Serie A runners-up built a two-goal lead in the first 30 minutes before we settled down and earned the draw late in the second. Olivier Giroud scored off an overhead scissors kick with 18 minutes to go and Laurent Koscielny grabbed the equalizer  in the 86th minute – a header off the rebound of a Pepe Reina save.

Arsène Wenger described the Napoli game as a "mental test" and noted a number of positive characteristics of Rafa Benitez's team. "I think they are a very good side. Very well organised. I like what they did in midfield. You could see that this team plays for a few years together."

That is in contrast to something Aaron Ramsey said after the game about playing with Jack Wilshere. "[We] have both been out for long periods of time with injury and we haven't had the opportunity to play with each other that often. Hopefully now we're both back fit we'll have more of an opportunity to play together … I played with Tomas [Rosicky] towards the end of last season and that seemed to work so it's only getting stronger as the season goes on." You have to think that if both players can stay healthy, this is a partnership that can be around – and dominate – for a long time

So despite the comeback, Napoli ended our pre-season winning streak. But we were still a position to hoist the Emirates Cup. As long as we beat our opposition in the second game, Galatasaray. The Turkish side beat Porto in the tournament's opening match. We looked to be on our way to victory after Theo Walcott scored in the first half. But Gala made some major changes in the second half, including bringing on Didier Drogba. And the Ivorian would again prove to be a thorn in our side scoring twice in the final 15 minutes.

Wenger cited the difference between the two halves and suggested that fatigue played a very big role in the drop off. Still, he called it "good preparation" for the upcoming season.

Normally after a game the press conference is focused on the match, the teams, individual performances and so on. But following both matches, the media was laser focused on Arsenal's transfer dealings this summer. The manager did his best to both politely answer the questions, and deflect them as much as he could.

Regarding the off-season moves, French forward Yaya Sanogo, who made his debut against Galatasaray, remains the sole player in Arsenal's in-box. The out-box however has gotten rather full. Gervinho moved on to Roma on a permanent deal on Thursday and Arsenal announced on Friday that Spanish defender Ignasi Miquel will spend the season at Leicester City.

That last move is especially interesting. Miquel, while he hasn't played too much for the first team, was effectively one of our top four central defenders going into the new season. As the manager noted after the Emirates Cup finale, "We have to show more defensive stability. We want to work on that." For the moment, that means we might have to look to Bacary Sagna to move to the middle if something happens to either of our starters. But few people, including the player himself, are concerned that he would not be up to the task.

The other big development of the week was the Champions League qualifier draw. Yet again, we picked up a rather tricky opponent in this stage, Turkish runners-up Fenerbahce. The first leg will be on August 21 in Istanbul, with the return leg at Emirates six days later. We last played them in the 2008/09 group stage and came away with a 5-2 aggregate win.

Looking ahead, Arsenal have one more warm-up match before next weekend's Premier League opener against Aston Villa. And this will surely be the stiffest competition of the pre-season. The squad heads to Helsinki to take on Manchester City in a friendly. Theo Walcott said that the game "will be a chance for us all to experience the tempo of the Premier League and what it's going to be like." And he's also excited to be running straight at old teammate Gael Clichy.

In addition to the former Gunners involved, the match in Finland will also be homecoming of sorts for Carl Jenkinson. The England right-back represented Finland at the youth levels before making the final decision to play for England at the senior level. Jenko's mother is Finnish and he spent a lot of time there in his younger days and he said he's snatched up around 50 tickets for family and friends.

Kick-off for Saturday's game is at the usual 10 a.m. and you can find it in the USA on the beIN SPORT network if it is available in your area. As ever, you can tune in to Arsenal Player for the live audio and an as-live replay after the match concludes.

And then things really get going. Come on you Gunners!

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Kevin Mooney 9 Aug 2013