While I’ve been watching all of Arsenal’s pre-season games I’ve also kept an eye on the scores and highlights of the pre-season preparations of our rivals.
It’s interesting to note that Chelsea have now lost three straight. United also have two losses (that I can recall without really thinking about it), City have not impressed in any game, and Tottenham were trashed by Villareal and haven’t really been that good.
Before I go further I have to acknowledge that these are just pre-season games and we don’t have to take them as seriously as some writers did while criticizing our defensive issues. Once these teams get into their rhythm all of them will perform much better than what they’ve done so far. Some of them will undoubtedly challenge for the title while others will be there or thereabouts with a top four shout.
However, one point that seems clear is that none of these teams have been able to train as well as they would have liked. Redknapp openly admitted this but I’ve not seen similar comments from others. Nonetheless, no one has claimed that their pre-season preparations have been ideal.
We’ve all seen that United have been relatively slow off the blocks in recent years. I expect the same from Tottenham and City this year. Chelsea will be an interesting case and I think a lot will depend on their transfer activity in the coming days.
Arsenal, on the other hand, have had a strong pre-season. The quality of the opposition wasn’t exceptional but can you really say that Sturm Graz are not a better team than, say, Kansas City Wizards!?
One note of concern is that our first choice midfield has been missing all through the preparations phase. I’m not sure how big an impact that will have in the early weeks but most of the rivals have had their key players at the World Cup and they are all taking time to get back into the groove.
I think the depth we have can come to our advantage. In the likes of Walcott, Wilshere, and Gibbs, we have international quality U-21 players who are fresh and raring to go. Add to this top class players like Vermaelen, Arshavin, Chamakh, and Nasri, who all missed the World Cup and have benefitted from a complete pre-season, and we have a good starting eleven that is ready to perform.
We do have a tough start with away games at Anfield and Ewood Park on either side of a relatively easy home game against newcomers Blackpool. I think Liverpool have plenty of fitness issues of their own. Torres is returning from an injury he picked up in the World Cup and I’ll be very surprised if he is ready to play at his best in the first game. Apart from Torres, the insolvents don’t really have a striker who will trouble us. Their other key players like Gerrard, Cole, and Johnson have all just returned to training so I don’t expect them to be at the top of their game either.
I don’t really know much about Blackburn’s preparations but they are a team we should beat even if they’ve had a good pre-season. By then hopefully we’ll have a new goalkeeper and our physical players like Song and Diaby will have had a chance to get match fit.
On the last two occasions that we won the Emirates Cup we had a good start in the League. In 07-08 we won six and drew one in the first two months. Last year we won four and lost two but they were both genuinely tough away trips and even then we dominated the game at Old Trafford.
With the fixtures we have in the first two months we have a good chance to be unbeaten and even win most of our games. I believe that will give the team a positive momentum that can add to the belief within the squad and set us up for the tough winter months.