July 25, 2012

Ah family road trips. Who can forget those from our childhood? Loading up in the family truckster - in my case a blue 1968 Chevy Impala - and heading off to the beach, mountains, amusement park or what have you. Despite all of those great memories, I somehow doubt my brother and I were as comfortable in the back seat of that giant car as these guys look. And I'm guessing their iPods aren't full of the greatest hits of Barry Manilow and The Carpenters as my parents' cassette collection was.

Arsenal began this year's summer tour last week, jetting off to Kuala Lampur for the first part of their tour of Asia. The squad took a couple days of acclimating to the sizzling temperatures and draining humidity as well as taking time to check out the sights and meet with supporters.

And it was a rather strong squad, despite several big names being left behind. Both of our new signings Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud remained in London to work on their fitness after getting some extra time off following the Euro. Their countrymen Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny respectively also were held back for the same reasons. But plenty of big names like Thomas Vermaelen, Theo Walcott and Mikel Arteta made the trip and should see plenty of action over the course of the trip.

Also on board for the tour is Abou Diaby. Arsène Wenger has handed the oft-injured Frenchman a big opportunity to put his fitness on display during the tour. And should everything work out, it could be quite the coup for Arsenal. Few can doubt Diaby's talents, but we have just had so few opportunities to really see him shine since his awful injury back in 2006. If he can in fact stay healthy this season, it will truly be a de facto new signing.

And that could put the kibosh on one of the big rumors of this off season. According to numerous websites and news outlets, the signing of French international Yann M'vila was all but complete before the Euros began. But Arsène dismissed that during his first interview of the pre-season. "When you look we have Song, Ramsey, Coquelin, Wilshere, Arteta and Diaby," he told Arsenal Player. "In defensive midfielders and box-to-box players we are not short if they are all coming back. If we have setbacks in pre-season it could be different."

But that does not mean the Boss is done playing the transfer market. As expected he won't elaborate, but he has suggested that who comes in very much depends on who goes out. "I cannot tell you anything concrete about the situation [regarding those who might leave] because if they are not finding clubs they will stay here and be players of the squad."

One of those players who could be on his way out, of course, is Robin van Persie. But Wenger said that he still hopes to keep striker at the Club and he was quick to dispel any notion that the situation surrounding the Dutchman is the same as what we experienced with Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. "The situation is not the same as last season," he said. "We have a squad that is solid and we have bought two strikers. Last year we lost not only two players in the transfer market, but players through injury in pre-season."

And avoiding injuries will be absolutely paramount to this season. Which is why you don't often see teams do more than simply stretch their legs and line up against some lower division club from whichever town they are holding camp in. But for Arsenal, the first game came against a group of Malaysian stars - some of which have had trials with clubs in Europe. And they definitely had no plans to simply roll over for the big boys. "In Asia you get mobile teams who are very enthusiastic," Wenger said. "They have the opportunity to play against players they usually watch on television so they don't make it easy for you."

Despite Arsenal dominating most of the first half, it was the Malaysian squad that took a lead into the break. A superb Mohamad Azmi Muslim strike from the edge of the area put the home side in front with just seconds left in the first half. The home side held their lead until the 87th minute when Nico Yennaris found Thomas Eisfeld for the equalizer. And just minutes later, Chuks Aneke found the back of the net after his shot deflected off the heel of a Malaysia defender.

So it wasn't a 4-0 blow out like last season, but still all in all, Wenger was pleased. "I think we got the quality of the game we wanted and that is very positive. We got through it without any injuries and it was a good game."

Back in the UK, a squad made up of Reserve and Youth players lined up against Boreham Wood FC in Terry Burton's first game in charge. The Arsenal squad found themselves go behind early, but rebounded in the second half after picking up two penalties, scored by Sanchez Watt and 16-year-old Chuba Akpom. Kristoffer Olsson added a third five minutes from time to give Arsenal the comfortable win.

Shortly after the game, the team boarded a plane and headed for Beijing where they were met by waiting fans at the airport. A couple of days of training and other events and then Arsenal will match up against last year's Premier League champions Man City. Once again, you can see the full match live on Arsenal Player on Friday - as well as Sunday's game against Kitchee FC in Hong Kong.

After that, it's a long flight back home and further preparations for the new season. But until then , stay tuned because there is certainly a lot more to come.

Come on you Gunners!

- Kevin Mooney


July 11, 2012

And just like that the pre-season workouts have begun. The squad turned out at London Colney on Tuesday to start training for the new season. Amazingly, we're only days away from the first friendly of 2012/12 - in the Markus Liebherr Memorial Cup at Southampton's St Mary's Stadium.

To say it has been an eventful off-season would be the understatement of... the off-season. The early move for German international Lukas Podolski, the 10 Gunners involved in the Euros, another quick move for last season's top scorer in Ligue 1, Olivier Giroud and then something less appetizing, the Robin van Persie situation.

We've had a week to decompress, but there has not been any news since the Club released a statement. Sure, we've heard a rumble here and a rumor or two there, but everything is pure speculation. All we can do is sit back and stay tuned to Arsenal.com for any and all official statements.

Meanwhile, there has been a fair amount of movement this week, although much of it is of a more behind-the-scenes nature. First - Podolski officially signed his deal with the Club and then took a stroll around his new stomping grounds. Welcome aboard Poldi - can't wait to celebrate that first goal in an Arsenal shirt!

Next up, Arsenal filled a coaching role that was left vacant when Pat Rice retired and Steve Bould and Neil Banfield moved up to first-team roles. Terry Burton has returned to Arsenal to become the new reserves and head development coach. It marks his third spell at Arsenal - the first was as a youth player in the early 70s and the second in various coaching roles from 1979-1987. The youngsters look to be in good hands.

There was also a bit of player movement, although not really anything you would describe as earth shattering... or even terribly surprising. Denilson secured another year on loan to his hometown club Sao Paulo. Costa Rica international Joel Campbell landed another loan move as well - to La Liga side Real Betis.

We also found out that Arsenal's pre-season schedule has become a bit less congested. The planned trip to Nigeria - which was to be on the heels of the Club's Asia Tour has been postponed. To be sure it's a disappointment for the many Arsenal supporters there, but in light of several with recent deals being struck in Africa, Arsenal is already working on firming up a trip there next summer.

The Asia Tour is still very much on and that kicks off in about two weeks. Arsène Wenger is very excited about returning to China, a country that he feels has amazing passion and knowledge of the game - and Arsenal. "The [surprise about China] for me was how much people know about our club," he said. "When we are in China it was unbelievable. I had a press conference at Hangzhou and people in the room knew more about Arsenal than I did!"

Wojceich Szczesny also praised the fans there, saying that the reception the players received last summer was incredible. "We were shocked really, we didn't expect anything like it. We thought we were going to be there for a nice trip, play a couple of games, have a few training sessions, and that's it, but people were outside the hotel 24/7," the goalkeeper recalled. "It gives you the idea of how big a club this is and it's something that stuck in my mind."

The Boss also commented on China's future as a potential force in world football. "Usually, sport follows the economic power, and the economic power is moving at the moment from Europe to China and Brazil," he said. "These countries, if they have the desire, they will have the players. The history is in Europe - but how long can we resist the power of China if they really want to develop football? The future will tell."

So buckle your safety belts and return your seatback to its full upright and locked position. It's time for some Arsenal.

Come on you Gunners!

- Kevin Mooney


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1 Aug 2012