If you think you know your Arsenal, it is time to think again. Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football.
By Miles Rackham
On Friday 27th, Arsenal face Manchester City at the Birds Nest Stadium, Beijing. Both teams have already won a pre-season game, Manchester City beating Besiktas, who came fourth in the Turkish Super League last year, 2-0. To give a measure of Besiktas, although they have brought in six players for the coming season, three of those were on a free, and the other three all cost under £1m each.
On the Arsenal front, we have discovered Thomas Eisfeld, who we purchased in the January transfer window from the Bundesliga champions, and a young player who has a lot of potential. Seven minutes after coming on, Song spots Yennaris in on the right wing and he plays it into Eisfeld who scores first time neatly just into the area. More of the same in this match would be welcome.
The Wanda Plaza Chinese Football Association Super League runs from March to November and so as with the Malaysian game fitness will be an issue with players when we come to play the Chinese. But Man City will probably be in much the same state as we are, or perhaps a little further forward. We saw how some players were clearly not fully fit for the last game – as for example Diaby who was almost certainly nervous at playing his first match in such a long time, on such a difficult pitch. He played where Rosicky played for most of the second half of the season, just behind the striker(s), and despite everything he must have been feeling he still played like the normal Diaby played, using skill to get round players.
Arteta also looked as if he wasn’t 100% fit, probably because he was sidelined against Wigan, meaning he missed the last four games of the season, and so his training has been out of phase with the rest of the squad. It was all part of the rehab process.
This was Arsenal’s first proper pre season game; the other games against Southampton and Anderlecht featured mostly youth and reserve players, with one or two first team players in attendance (while the Boreham Wood match was very much a reserve team affair). Gervinho played in the Southampton tournament, as well as Santos and Djourou. These games were only 45 minutes long so didn’t really show the teams full fitness levels and quality.
Unlike Arsenal, Mancini sent out a strong team in his last match, which included Kompany, Yaya Toure, Zabaleta, Johnson, Tevez and Aguero. Besiktas put the Premier League champions under quite a large amount of pressure in the first half, before Aguero scored from a curling shot at half time. This took the wind out of the Turkish Super League team, and City skipper, Belgium international Vincent Kompany scored with a good lob outside of the area midway through the second half. He was then substituted for Savic, a defender who was appalling against QPR in November, where City just about won 3-2, and was said to be at fault for at least one goal.
This was City’s third pre season game, but only their first win. They began their pre season with a draw to Dynamo Dresden, before losing one nil to Saudi side Al Hilal. They showed some of the same problems as Arsenal, as a lot of their players attended the Euros, and they did lack a bit of fitness, while maybe some others lack it from over playing. (Interestingly, after Turkey, they flew back to Manchester, before flying to Beijing to train before playing Arsenal.)
The last meeting between Arsenal and City ended with a late strike from Arteta. Arsenal were on top of City for most of the game, and should have scored in the first half with a Van Persie header which hit Vermaelen on the line. Then in the second half, a mixture of Walcott hitting the post, it coming out to Vermaelen five yards out, him missing the ball, it hit Benayoun, who also failed to convert. Finally Pizzaro lost the ball to Arteta 30 yards out, who ran and hit it cleanly beating Hart low to his left in the 87th minute. Then their controversial, (yet we must admit extremely talented) striker Balloteli, who should have been sent off for his foul on Song, got his second yellow card in the 90th minute. Ramsey went through and ran deep into City’s area, and curled it awfully wide, meaning he had blown his moment of glory.
So we can guess that both sets of players are still around 80% fit, so it is going to be an interesting game, in a heat of around 82F, with chances of thunder and rain.
But who is to play?
We have a 24 man squad, and only the keepers didn’t get a full game in Malaysia, so we can expect one of the other two keepers to take over for the whole game, with whoever goes in third playing the full match next time. Otherwise we might well see the same teams as in the last game, unless Mr Wenger wants to end some experiments and do something different.
Thomas Eisfeld deserves to get more of a run, Francis Coquelin might play at full back instead of defensive midfield, Santos might return to his normal position, Gervinho could be used as a centre forward – as has been tried in training. Theo might get a full half.
Put it another way, no one at Untold has a clue who is going to play, so we’re not even putting a team sheet together for this one.
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