July 26, 2013

It’s never easy to start a new training regimen. You know the first workouts are going to hurt.  You know it is going to drain every bit of energy out of you. And for many of us, that all happens in a nice air-conditioned gym.

But for Arsenal players, pre-season training has been in a very hot and very humid east Asia. And after a week of traveling, jet lag and a couple of friendlies, it was time to step things up. Arsenal began the week in Japan with higher tempo workouts and double training sessions ahead of matches against Nagoya Grampus and Urawa Red Diamonds.  

How has it been for the players? While Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain actually used the word "suffering," he admitted that everything seems to be going to plan. "It's something that you're not used to and it can make you feel a bit sluggish and lethargic because it's harder to get your breath out here. But I think the longer we stay out here, the fitter we'll get. I do feel stronger from the first game which was in Jakarta. We've got two more games now in Japan and that will only bode well for when we go back to England where it's not as humid and as hot. "

The first of those two games was extra special in that it was against Arsène Wenger's old club, Nagoya Grampus. The pre-match press conference was a veritable love-in. Not only because Grampus is managed by Dragan Stojkovic, one of Wenger's  former players, but Nagoya also happens to be the hometown of Ryo Miyaichi.

And the hometown boy made good as he started and scored his first Arsenal in the first half. And it was quite a scene: after the referee pointed to the spot in the 26th minute, Mikel Arteta picked up the ball as if he was going to take the kick. But instead, he handed it to Ryo who powered home the penalty. Truly, the way he took the shot showed impressive confidence, but you might have expected him to be up for it with the stands full of fans wearing shirts with his name on the back.

Everyone is just dripping with confidence right now. The 3-1 win also featured Olivier Giroud's sixth goal of the pre-season, and Theo Walcott scored the third of the night early in the second half on a fantastic through-ball from Gedion Zelalem. The 16-year-old has really impressed on the tour and Wenger has to be pleased with his development so far.

But most of the post-match focus was on Ryo, and Wenger rattled off a number of qualities that the player has shown: "His pace, his mobility and his movement off the ball. I like players who can move when others have the ball. There is also his attitude, commitment and desire." The boss admitted that the 20-year-old is a bit behind physically after struggling with injuries, but he praised the work Ryo has put in to return to fitness.  

Of course, he's not the only one. Theo pointed out that each player knows exactly what they need to do this year and that “Everyone is at the top of their game at the moment. Everyone's very fit and come the start of the season, we'll be flying." That's the physical strength, but about the mental side of the game? What about ambition and a desire to win? Tomas Rosicky covered that in no uncertain terms. "It's very simple, my target is a trophy - I want to win the league," he said. "This is my eighth year here and that's what I came here for, so now it's time to achieve it. I will work hard every day in training and in the games to fulfill my dream. I have never felt hungrier in my career for success as I do now."

Music to a fan's ears. And that music could turn into a symphony if the Club can make a big signing or two before the season. And what's interesting, is that the players have also been calling for an injection of talent, even if it means it could threaten their role in the squad. Lukas Podolski said, “I'm not scared about big names - I'm happy when big names come in. When a big striker or a big defender comes in, they help the team and they help me." Giroud added, "It will be good for the team and me as well to have another striker as we will have more competition."

The final curtain on the Asia Tour dropped on Friday with a 2-1 win over Urawa Red Diamonds to lift the Saitama City Cup. Podolski opened the scoring in the second half with a powerful volley off a Walcott pass. Chuba Akpom, another youngster who is making the most of his chances on the tour, capitalized on a defensive error to score the winner in the 82nd minute.

Looking ahead, it's now back to London for a few days of training ahead of this season's Emirates Cup. It should be a fantastic tournament this year with games against Napoli and Galatasaray, with Porto also involved. After that, there is one final warm up before the season kicks off – a friendly against Manchester City in Helsinki.

Hang in there Gooners, the season is nigh.

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Kevin Mooney 26 Jul 2013