Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Saturday round-up: Toffee test, Saliba, kids head to Dulwich

Morning again from Brixton, 

I was going to say it’s a matchday, but I guess with Arsenal kicking off against Everton in Baltimore at midnight UK time, I’m teetering on the edge of “he’s 28 until he becomes 29” territory. 

I’m in two minds as to whether I should stay up and watch tonight. On the one hand, I have a responsibility to cover it for Arseblog News, on the other, I could be sleeping and resent paying £5.99 to watch a pre-season friendly on my laptop. 

I recognise that’s a lot cheaper than being there in person. When I checked out Ticketmaster yesterday, the cheapest tickets were $99 and there appeared to be quite a bit of availability. While I’ve no doubt the local Gooners will be out in force, I’m struggling to believe the 71,000-capacity M&T Stadium will be anywhere near full. 

On the local news, our new American keeper Matt Turner was doing his best to drum up support from a city that recently failed in a bid to host matches at the 2026 World Cup. 

“I feel for the people of the region, it must have been very, very heartbreaking to not get that World Cup bid but the best thing that the people of the region can do is show up to the game at M&T Bank Stadium and show the country that it is a soccer region and people care about the game a lot.”

If it doesn’t work out for Turner in goal, he’s ripe for an internship with the Arsenal marketing team, that’s for sure. 

Things haven’t gone completely to plan since we touched down in the States. The players were due to take part in an open training session at the University of Maryland but the facilities weren’t up to scratch, so it got cancelled. We’ve since been training (behind closed doors) at the local Naval Academy. 

Mohamed Elneny, one of the elder statesmen these days, is enjoying the chance to bond with everyone in new surroundings. 

“We are here for 10 or 11 days and we are going to give everything every day to be stronger,” he told Arsenal.com. 

“It’s been really good so far. Sometimes it’s good to change the location, be away from the training ground, and get to know each other better. We have met a few fans, signed some autographs, and the weather is different too. 

“I think that’s good for us though, it makes us work harder, makes us stronger. When you train when it’s humid and really hot it’s tougher. It’s hard work but it’s better for us.”

Given we’ve taken a 33-man squad, I suspect Mikel Arteta will take the opportunity to spread the minutes around against the Toffees. The guys who featured against Nürnberg last weekend will probably start with the returning international players getting game time in the second half. 

That could mean a debut for Fabio Vieira and a run-out for William Saliba. The Frenchman hasn’t played for the first team since a pre-season friendly with MK Dons a couple of years ago; a 45-minute cameo that persuaded Arteta that the then 19-year-old wasn’t ready for the cut and thrust of Premier League football. He’s now a fully-fledged international so it’ll be curious to see how far he’s come. 

He’s confirmed that talks have taken place with the boss: “We spoke a little bit on Monday and will speak more. My plan is to fight and work with the team, win as much as possible, and grow more.

“It feels good to be back and starting pre-season. I’m so excited to continue training and playing in the friendly games. It’s important to be here with the fans, as well as my teammates. I hope we’ll enjoy some good training and games which is important before the start of the season.”

He also revealed he was keeping close tabs on Arsenal’s performances while on loan in France. 

“I was on loan but I watched every single game of the team. It’s good because when I was there [in France] some of the players weren’t here [when I was] so I watched them to try to see how they play so that when I’m back it would be easier to play with players I’d not seen before.”

Saliba certainly has a fan in Per Mertesacker who told Hayters earlier in the week: “What William has done in Marseille is magnificent. He has clearly made his mark at a young age and playing in a major league in Europe. He’s been one of the best players in Europe, so why not use him?”

Gabriel Jesus will also be hoping to pick up where he left off after setting tongues wagging in Germany. Granit Xhaka, who not long ago was berating his teammates for their lack of balls, seems impressed by the Brazilian and the other new faces. 

In an interview with Sky Sports, he said: “They are bringing something more than only games and wins, they are bringing the mentality of winning something and this is what we need here. It’s easy only to speak, you have to show it on the pitch as well. 

“They bring the experience and of course, Gabi, he knows the Premier League, I think he won everything already, nearly everything, but the most important thing is to bring the players who have the hunger as well. You can win a lot of trophies and say, “OK, that’s enough” but these guys they want to win much more, even with us. This is what makes us very, very happy to have them.”

Cedric added about Jesus: “He’s a great player. Obviously, he showed his potential already in many, many seasons at City so we know about his quality. He’s showing it as well here, I’m sure he’ll be a very good addition to the group as well. 

He may or may not have added: “I can’t wait to be in all the photos of him celebrating goals.”

I’m not really sure what to expect from Everton. It’s not long since we spanked them 5-1 on the final day of last season and, so far, they’ve not been particularly active in the transfer market. Richarlison was sold to Sp*rs and they’ve recruited James Tarkowski on a free after his contract ended at Burnley. As far as I can tell, their fans are pretty disgruntled by the situation forcing one-time Arsenal shareholder Farhad Moshiri to issue a classic ‘judge as at the end of the window’ statement.  

Fingers crossed, it’s an entertaining game. It better be if I’m staying up until 2am or sheeeeeeeeee-it, I’ll be lodging a complaint.

Closer to home, Mehmet Ali’s under-21s are taking on Dulwich Hamlet today at Champion Hill. It’s only a mile or so down the road from me so it would be rude not to make an appearance. 

These days, Dulwich play their football in the semi-professional National League South but with access to south London’s rich pool of football talent, Gavin Rose’s side are no pushovers. They’ll also be looking to exact revenge for a 2-0 defeat at Highbury in the London FA Challenge Cup in 1919. 

Jeorge Bird reckons it’ll be a similar squad to the one that beat Hereford in midweek, although they could be bolstered by some of the higher-profile kids who missed out on the US tour – Charlie Patino, Marcelo Flores, Salah-Eddine. 

One guy who won’t feature is Omari Hutchinson. News broke yesterday that the 18-year-old winger, a regular on the bench for the first team at the end of last season, is on the verge of signing for Chelsea. (Updatedeal now confirmed)

We don’t know the details but on the surface, it seems odd to leave a club with a reputation for giving youngsters a chance to join one where the opposite is true. He’s due to hook up with the Blues’ under-23s initially and I guess he’ll eventually head out on loan. Oh well. 

Elsewhere, Auston Trusty – our low-key January acquisition from Colorado Rapids – has sealed a season-long loan with Birmingham City. He’ll have Troy Deeney and his oversized cojones to deal with in training every day. If that doesn’t toughen him up for English football, nothing will. 

In terms of incomings, it’s looking increasingly likely that we’ll get a deal done for Oleksandr Zinchenko – Edu just needs to go through the usual rigmarole of lodging two bids that will be rejected before paying City what they want – and there are positive vibes coming out of Bukayo Saka’s camp as talks progress over a new deal. Excellent. 

Right, that’s your lot from me for today. Maybe I’ll see some of you at the Dulwich game. 

Tim will be on duty tomorrow, I’ll be back on Monday and before you know it, Blogs will be here regaling us with tales of pintxos and sunshine. 

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