Morning all, it’s a gloomy Monday here but the countdown to the new season has well and truly begun now.
We played our final warm-up game yesterday, running out 4-0 winners over FC Koln and in truth we could have had plenty more than four. We’ve talked a lot this summer about Steve Bould and the potential changes he’d make to the defensive side of our game, but the first goal had his fingerprints all over it. Santi Cazorla took a corner to the near post, Mertesacker
Boulded flicked it on and Thomas Vermaelen planted home the header from close range to make it 1-0.
It was reminiscent of the good old days and while it might well have been coincidence I prefer to think Bouldie has had them practicing that all week long. The second came from Lukas Podolski, slotting home a penalty after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was bundled over in the box, and the German got two on his return to his former club, rounding off a very good move with a fine finish from inside the box.
The first half also provided a couple of decent chances for Olivier Giroud but the home keeper made some very good saves, while in midfield Santi Cazorla looked fantastic. He was the hub through which most things went, always looking for it, using the ball well and switching play with both feet with ease. He seemed to combine well with Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and although he played just 45 minutes it’s hard not to be excited about what he might produce when the real football gets going.
It was also interesting to note that AOC was played in central-midfield again. At no stage this pre-season has he played anywhere else so we can only assume that’s where the manager is planning to use him once the season starts. He has the versatility to play as part of the attacking trio, and I do think we’ll see him there from time to time, but it seems that Arsene wants to give him as much time centrally as possible – having always said he’d end up in that position.
There were wholesale changes in the second half, Gervinho stood out and scored our fourth, and with about 20 minutes to go Arsene brought on Robin van Persie. He didn’t do much of note, he might have been booed by some Arsenal fans, but his presence on the pitch was telling. He didn’t get the 45 minutes he told van Gaal he was going to play but was it a little message from the manager to both player and potential suitors to remind them van Persie is an Arsenal player, regardless of what’s been written all summer. He has a contract and we’re paying his wages.
Afterwards, the manager said:
There’s no news on van Persie. Anything I could say about van Persie would be a lie because he’s our player and that’s it. We want to keep him. I cannot tell you more at the moment because I don’t know more.
We have not bought the players to replace van Persie, but to strengthen our squad with the thinking van Persie will stay. That’s still my mind at the moment.
It was notable that van Persie wore the captain’s armband when he came on. Perhaps a reminder from the manager that he has a role to fulfill at the club and that there’s an expectation he does that. Many of our players are going away on international duty this week – once again the footballing authorities have shown their contempt for clubs by organising these ridiculous, unnecessary friendlies – so it leaves the manager with little time to prepare for the game against Sunderland. Cazorla, for example, travels to Puerto Rico with Spain, and we know how cautious Arsene is about using players who have been on long distance flights. It’s a real irritant.
It also means that there’s little chance of much happening in the way of transfers and van Persie, like it or not, now seems more likely to start the season as an Arsenal player than not. It’s not something I’d have put much money on, I have to admit, and I still think this is a situation that could run all the way to transfer deadline day, but at the moment he’s still part of our squad.
Clearly the way he’s handled things has not been good. Between himself and his agent they’ve made a pig’s ear the situation. As I’ve said all along I think they totally misjudged the level of interest in him, or other clubs’ ability to stump up what Arsenal want, and the ill-feeling towards him is entirely of his own making. Had he just kept his mouth shut it would probably be quite different. While some will say his statement has forced the board’s hand to make top quality signings, I think that’s giving him rather too much credit. Arsenal have never been dictated to by one player, nor should they be, but the club’s actions have made van Persie’s statement look ill-timed and ill-judged, at best.
So, what happens? Do we forgive and forget? I don’t think we need to do that, even if van Persie ends up staying. We can look at him as an excellent player who makes our team/squad stronger and as long as he gives 100% when he plays we just get on with it. If he goes, he goes, for all that will entail, but what we ought not to do is get caught dwelling on the negatives when there was so much to be positive about yesterday.
Granted FC Koln weren’t the most difficult opponents but all three of our new players showed they’ve got plenty to offer. They clicked nicely into our system and with the other players around them and although it’s still very, very early days it was encouraging to see. I think it might take a few games for everyone to get up to speed, I’m not sure pre-season was perfect in terms of getting the players physically ready for the start of the new campaign, but it won’t take long.
If those new players and the existing squad continue to dovetail like that then perhaps van Persie’s departure won’t affect us as badly as we think. And if he stays then there’s no doubt he’d make us stronger. In the quest for silverware do we let our emotions rule the roost or look at things pragmatically? It’s not a decision for me, or you, but one that will tax Arsene I’m sure. He’s said continually he wants him to stay and while there’s certainly an element of him playing with a straight bat because anything else he says might prejudice our position, it’s not too much of a stretch to think he means it too.
There are 18 days until the transfer window closes, if van Persie remains after that period he’s with us for the season. He might not like it, some fans might not like it, but neither will opposition defences, and ultimately the stronger we are the better our chances of winning something. It’s not easy this football thing, eh?
Right, that’ll do for a Monday morning, till tomorrow.