So the Emirates Cup kicked off with a 2-2 draw which, as you would expect in most pre-season games, had some good stuff and some bad stuff.
For me the good stuff included Gervinho who looked sharp, quick and showed some end product in the final third again. I thought Frimpong was good in midfield, obviously he’s still quite raw but he’s got a drive and energy about him that I like. It was another decent display from Carl Jenkinson who seems to be fitting in quite well while Traore had a decent game at left back,
In the second half Aaron Ramsey’s finish was quite something and the summer lay-off has done nothing to quell the goalscoring fire of Robin van Persie. His finish, and more importantly, the timing of his run for the finish, were both absolutely top class.
So definitely some positives but there were some negatives too. I think people could have handled a bit of negative, accepting of the fact it’s pre-season, but when it comes to our defence, and our centre-halves in particular, there’s little forgiveness out there. Both Squillaci and Djourou made mistakes which led to goals. For the first Squillaci was caught in possession in midfield and Boca capitalised on it brilliantly. For the second Djourou was a bit unlucky when trying to make a sliding clearance, the ball hitting his knee and rebounding to their striker, but it’s the kind of bad luck that’s been following him around for months now.
There was a time when everyone wanted Djourou in the team. He had this strange record of having not been on a losing side for ages, but more than that, he was playing well and he added height and strength to the defence. It seems that version of Johan Djourou has been forgotten completely, which is a bit unfair, I think. I’d happily agree with anyone who says his form is extremely poor but I’m not sure it’s time to write him off just yet.
What was interesting after the game was listening to Martin Keown on ESPN. Despite it being the clown network, one that employs that helium voiced halfwitted Afghan hound, and one that quite literally turned punditry and analysis into Championship Manager yesterday, Keown was the little golden nugget sifted from the river of effluent.
Unlike his hyperbolic pundit colleague and the bumbling, hysterical Ray Stubbs, he talked knowledgeably and sensibly about defending and Arsenal’s issues. He said simply making a signing won’t solve the problems when there’s more to it than that. Of course better defenders would help but there were basic problems yesterday in terms of organisation and reading of the game. Knowing when to drop off to prevent the simple ball over the top being so effective, ensuring the large gap between defence and midfield doesn’t exist therefore allowing space and time to the opposition in a dangerous area of the pitch, these things and more were a worry.
And it was good to hear someone talk about these problems without resorting to the tired suggestion that just have to go out and buy two world class centre backs to fix it. I mean, if it was that easy there’d be a queue of managers outside the ‘World Class Centre-Back Emporium’ each weekend, wouldn’t there?
Those who say Arsene traded on George Graham’s back four conveniently forget the Invincibles. Maybe it was the right mix at the right time but it shows he can put a decent defence together. Maybe though, what this team lacks, is a character/player like Sol Campbell. A top class defender in his peak years with the drive and will to form the bedrock of the defensive unit. For three seasons he was outstanding, until he went a bit mad, but when you consider he had around him a midfielder turned right back, a utility player turned centre-half one pre-season, a lunatic German and Ashley Cole his presence was the glue we needed.
That’s not to play down the talent/ability of the other players but you can’t help but look at our defence now and think it lacks cohesion and organisation. While any new defender ought to be well schooled in the basics, some Campbell-esque qualities are imperative too. Fitness and match sharpness are a part of pre-season, no doubt about it, but I think the manager now needs to focus on his best central pairing – at the moment that’s Koscielny and Vermaelen. I suspect they’ll play today and I’d like to see them do 90 minutes.
And while new personnel isn’t the answer on its own there really is only one way of dealing with players who make mistakes time and time again. As I said earlier, I think it’s too early to write off Djourou, but Squillaci fails to convince on any level and must surely be on shaky ground should any central-defensive signing be made. Yesterday didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t know already, and while there is a danger of over-analysying pre-season, to see the same kind of defensive frailties raise their head again is frustrating. Let’s hope the business Arsene says will be done sooner rather than later is quite soon indeed.
Anyway, there’s more football to enjoy/criticise/analyse later on as we welcome Thierry Henry back to the Arsenal. This interview with Tom Watt is well worth a read. It’ll be nice to see him again.
In other news the boss confirmed both Eboue and Bendtner were ‘on the verge’ of moves away. The People report this morning that Arsenal’s demand for a £15m fee and Bendtner’s £3m wages are causing problems finding a new club. I can’t really believe we’re looking for that much, the only thing he’d be on the verge of then is staying with us. I suspect something will happen soon. It was also kinda strange to see him play Eboue yesterday considering he’s about to leave, but there you go.
Beyond that not a lot going on, and to finish on a positive, we faced quite a number of corners and didn’t concede once! SZCZ was right.