August 16, 2013
In less than 24 hours a new season begins.
After a month of pre-season training, tours and friendlies we'll see what our beloved Arsenal truly has to offer when things get real. As far as pre-seasons go, this one was an unqualified success. A number of players stood out and showed big improvements over last season. The defense looks like it hasn’t missed a step from the 10-game unbeaten run. And the team chemistry seems as strong as ever.
We ended the pre-season with a bang by topping Manchester City in Helsinki 3-1. Theo Walcott was the star of the show, scoring the opener in the 9th minute with a chip over Joe Hart after an impressive pass from Aaron Ramsey. Theo retuned the favor shortly after the break and set up Giroud three minutes after that. Perhaps more importantly, Arsenal defense held firm until 11 minutes from time and held off a number of City threats.
Arsène Wenger was thrilled with the performance and the confidence his squad showed. "We had a good tactical discipline," he said. "I'm pleased with many aspects of our game, even if there are some points to work on. Overall it's positive tactically [and] attitude-wise. We scored goals, created chances and were always highly focused."
He also singled out Walcott and Ramsey for an extra dose of praise citing Theo's intelligence and two-way play and Ramsey's engine and improved vision on the pitch. And if you need proof of that, check out that opening goal again.
For Per Mertesacker, the win put a cap on strong pre-season and set the team up for a strong performance in the season opener. "That's what we are looking forward to - a good, serious win so everybody sees that we are mentally ready for a long season. We have to focus on every single match as if it's our last game."
The German defender also touched on the importance of team morale and spirit and said that the Asia Tour was hugely successful in building that up. And that will go along way as the season kicks-off. "If we stick together more in the first month, especially in the Champions League qualifier and the first games of the Premier League, we can continue our good run that we had [at the end] of last season."
So everything looks great, right?
There is one teesny little issue that developed this week. Mikel Arteta picked up a thigh injury in training a couple of days ago. There was no early indication that it was a big deal, but a scan showed a much more serious injury. Arteta now stands to be out for as long as six weeks which is an undeniably big blow to the squad. No team ever wants to lose the kind of experience and leadership on the pitch that the Spaniard provides. Mertesacker will don the captain's armband in his place.
The immediate question following news like that: will Arsenal look for a replacement before the transfer window snaps shut. Supporters everywhere have voiced concerns about depth and have questioned whether the Club will dip into reportedly deep coffers to bring in some new players. The manager has tried to calm everyone's fears, saying he "understands every frustration" and pointed to the calendar as a bit of reassurance. "There are 18 days to go," he said. "So that is a long time in the transfer market and we will be active. I cannot certify what the number [of players coming in will be] but we will be active until the end, that is for sure."
Wenger also noted that Arsenal are not alone in this situation. "We are in a situation like Manchester United, like Chelsea, where everybody expects signings and at the moment not a lot has happened." He was also very clear why he hasn't splashed the cash so far. "It is difficult to find the quality players to strengthen the team and the squad who are available at the moment but there are a shortage of top, top, top players who are available ... It's not a question of spending the money, it's a question of finding the right players!"
And because of that, and the managerial carousel whirling at warp speed this summer, Wenger believes that this will be one of the most wide-open title races in years. In fact he thinks no fewer than six teams could compete for the trophy.
The Club did announce some player movement this week, although it again was not in the direction many of us have been clamoring for. Marouane Chamakh has moved over to newly-promoted Crystal Palace and Brazilian forward Wellington headed back to Spain for another season on loan at Real Murcia in the Segunda Division. The boss also confirmed the reasons why he sold Gervinho to Roma.
So right now, what you see is what you get with the squad – at least for Saturday's season opener against Aston Villa, although we could also be without the services of Santi Cazorla who played for Spain in Ecuador on Wednesday. He is back in London, but the long-distance travel could play a big role in his status.
As for the opposition, Paul Lambert's side struggled mightily last season, but did improve some toward the end of the season. They will be without question very dangerous on the counter-attack and their forward unit of Benteke, Agbonlahor and Weimann are particularly impressive. Those three will team up to score goals throughout the course of the season – but the question is whether their defense will be up to the task. Still, we had a tough time breaking through last season and only managed three goals against them in two games.
On the other hand, Villa has had a tough time playing in London – anywhere in London – over the past few seasons.
If you are looking for the game on TV tomorrow, it will be on NBC Sports Network in the USA and Sportsnet in Canada. If you don't have access to the game Arsenal Player will be there to provide live audio commentary from about 9:30 a.m. ET. Remember, this is now a FREE broadcast if you sign up for an also free Arsenal DIgital Membership. And don’t forget to check our list of supporters groups in the USA and Canada. There are a number of new groups this season, and one may just be near you.
It's a new season, fellow Gooners. So let's start it on a high.
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