Earlier today I wanted to make sure my memory wasn’t playing games and the match tomorrow was indeed designated as a friendly. So I googled “Charity Shield designated friendly”. There wasn’t a really funny result or suggestion that I’ve to share here but I was surprised when many results came up for Community Shield instead. It just reminded me that almost a decade has passed since I took any serious interest in this game. So much so that the name change hadn’t even registered mentally.
And then it felt good. For though it is probably nothing more than a very serious friendly game, the fact that Arsenal are involved means something good happened last season. It also took me back to the early part of the Millennium when a casual foreign fan might’ve been forgiven for believing this was the customary Arsenal-V-United game played to mark the start of a new season.
How things have changed. And keep changing…
I’m really looking forward to this game, not as another “trophy” to be won, but as a barometer for the preparedness of Wenger’s side. This upcoming season promises to be one of the most competitive in recent memory and the Gunners will need a fast start.
Arsenal’s World Cup winners are not back in training yet and it’s reasonable to expect them to miss the opening weeks of the season. I truly do hope Wenger doesn’t rush any of them no matter what happens in this period.
This is important because it means the players we shall see on Sunday will bear the responsibility to perform and deliver for the club till after the first international break.
Unless a centre back, who’s had a great preseason elsewhere, comes in ready to play, young Calum Chambers could have a big role to play at the heart of the Arsenal defence alongside Koscielny with very little in the form of back up options available.
In the rest of the positions Wenger seems to have plenty of choices even if there appears to be room to better the centre of midfield. I would love to talk about Diaby as one of the great options but it just feels better to leave him be for at least six months or so just to see how everything goes. No hopes, no pressure, no judgments…
Wenger is almost spoilt for choice (although you might say cosistency and quality remains to be proven in some cases) up front. Any of Sanchez, Campbell, Sanogo, or Giroud (if he’s improved his fitness) can play at the head of the attack. The first two, Chamberlain, Cazorla, and even Rosicky can play in the wider areas. Spain, the Czech Republic, or Britain could provide the main attacking midfielder while the German enjoys a well deserved holiday. The manager also has players to allow for variation in formation and approach.
I have a feeling one of Joel Campbell or Podolski will leave the club before the transfer window closes and thus this is a crucial period for the Costa Rican lad to build on his preseason promise. I know Wenger has said he wants to keep Campbell at the club but it won’t be a surprise if he’s let go. He has to force himself into the starting line up during this month and then produce the quality that proves he belongs at this level. Hopefully, he’ll get a fair few minutes against City, preferably a start.
Here’s the team I’d like to see,
Szczesny – Debuchy, Chambers, Koscielny, Gibbs – Arteta, Cazorla, Ramsey – Campbell, Sanchez, Chamberlain.
It’ll be great if the front three can interchange positions and combine in the final third with Santi (hasn’t quite looked in form thus far in preseason) pulling the strings. Such a team would also give us an indication of the quality and quantity of defensive work we can expect from the explosive attackers.
I’m also keen to see if Ramsey can control his instincts and show greater game intelligence by carefully picking the moments to charge forward. Against some of the smaller teams in preseason he’s spent a lot of time in and around the opposition box. That won’t work in the big games and the Gunners have to avoid a repeat of last season’s soul-crushers at all cost. In my opinion, even though last season was a breakthrough year for him, 2014-15 will represent a bigger period in the Welshman’s career. He made phenomenal decisive contribution last season but now he has to show he can also control the games, particularly the big ones. That’s the next step. If he takes that, Rambo will be very close to the top five midfielders in the world, and Arsenal will move towards being very serious contenders for the major trophies. It’d be understandable if Ramsey doesn’t have the same decisive impact as he did in 13-14 and that makes the need to evolve as a player even greater. He could end up frustrated at a lack of impact and get caught in the vicious cycle of trying to do too much leading to greater inefficiency, or he could channel his desire into areas that will help the team synergy and let others flourish while he controls the game. It’s a tricky balance to achieve and he’s probably still a bit young to master this but I definitely want to see some effort in that direction.
There are six substitutes available to each manager in this game as it’s officially a friendly. Wilshere should get some time on the pitch. Wenger might even start him in central midfield and push Cazorla to the left. I’m not a fan of Jack in central midfield but his manager has a lot of faith in the veteran youngster. The Englishman probably has more to prove than any of his teammates this season and for that alone I’d understand if Wenger gave him a lot of game time, at least till Özil gets back.
Rosicky, Sanogo, Giroud, Diaby and Monreal should also see some action.
Moving on, I’d like to say goodbye and good luck to Vermaelen. He started with a bang and became a star after his first season. The impact of his goals meant few noticed the defensive mistakes at the time. They only came to the fore after the goals dried up and the team went through a lean patch. Nevertheless, I thought he was a good enough player and could have done more with regular game time. Part of his struggles coincided with the period when Arsenal had structural weaknesses in their collective defence, which were only really sorted last year and that too in a limited way. Barcelona should be a good place for him and unlike some of the other Arsenal players who’ve gone there, the Belgian could have an excellent career as long as he gets a stable start and doesn’t make any errors in the opening games. It could boil down to the quality of Luis Enrique’s management and the work rate of the squad.
This transfer also reminds me of an email I got a few days back from a friend(modified the last line)…
2005: Juventus sign ARSENAL CAPTAIN Patrick Vieira.
2006: Juventus MANAGER Fabio Capello RESIGNS.
2007: Barcelona sign ARSENAL CAPTAIN Thierry Henry.
2008: Barcelona MANAGER Frank Rijkaard SACKED.
2011: Barcelona sign ARSENAL CAPTAIN Cesc Fabregas.
2012: Barcelona MANAGER Pep Guardiola RESIGNS.
2012: Man Utd sign ARSENAL CAPTAIN Van Persie.
2013: Man Utd MANAGER Ferguson retires.
2014: Barcelona sign TV5 Arsenal captian
Omens not good for Luis Enrique.
On the subject of Captaincy, Wenger has a few interesting possibilities.
Promoting Arteta, who did the job most of last year anyway, is the simplest option but the Spaniard may not be a regular this year and might even leave in a year. Those are not the kind of things that have prevented Wenger in the past so I won’t be surprised if the Spaniard does get the armband.
Mertesacker is another interesting candidate because he is likely to be a regular starter when fit and will be coming back with a World Cup winners medal. While I don’t have any connection with the inner workings of the dressing room, it’ll be a surprise if the German is not a popular member. He certainly comes across as a team player. Remember what Loew said after the win over France,
“When I told him last night (that he won’t be starting), he said ‘Alles klar’ coach, I’m here to help the team any way I can’. It was incredibly professional. He’s extremely important to the team.”
Or this on the subject of leadership and relationship with fans
That said, he did lose his place in the German starting line-up as he struggled when playing in a high line. The same might happen at Arsenal and could depend on what Wenger can do before the transfer window shuts.
Rosicky is another very good candidate but also one who is likely to be on the bench more often than the pitch. I wouldn’t want to see Wilshere or Ramsey given such a responsibility right now when they still have a lot to learn and prove. Özil is different. He should just be left to do his thing on the pitch without extraneous burdens. Giroud, Koscielny, Santi and some of the other players don’t quite feel the right choice for different reasons.
I think Arteta as Captain and Per his deputy would make sense. The reverse also works just as well but since Mertesacker won’t be starting the initial games, the Spaniard is probably the simpler choice.
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