I went to the Emirates yesterday to see Galatasaray against Porto and then Arsenal against Napoli. It was a good day out – my first chance to see the magnificent stadium and to see how the team is shaping up for the new season.
The Galatasaray vs Porto game was a bit anodyne with few real chances. It was good to see Didier Drogba still able to bully defenders. In the first half Porto outpassed Galatasaray but didn’t really have the end product. They got caught on the break and conceded to a penalty. In the second half it opened up a little. We saw Eboue’s frailties as a right back but also his abilities as he won another penalty which was missed.
The Arsenal game was much more open from the start with Arsenal creating chances regularly. Gnabry almost chipped Pepe Reina for what would have been a spectacular goal and there were the usual edge of the penalty box moves which don’t quite come off. What was pleasing to see was the overlaps and balls being played across the six yard box. Arsenal conceded to Napoli’s only two chances of the half though. The first as a blunder by Carl Jenkinson as he headed a ball off-balance and then lost his man, Insigne, who finished beautifully on the volley. Arsenal missed what looked like a very soft penalty before Pandev scored with another really good finish. For me Fabianski was at fault for committing but Napoli showed really good movement. There were lots of good chances created by Arsenal and I was shocked that they were booed off at half time.
In the second half the game continued to flow and once Jenkinson was replaced by Sagna it became more one-sided. Podolski had a couple of good chances and the old flaw of over working attacks was obvious. The first Arsenal goal was a fantastic effort from Giroud with an overhead kick direct from a corner which took a deflection off Sagna I think. The second in the dying minutes was created by a great Mertesacker header saved superbly by Reina but followed up by Koscielny.
On chances Arsenal deserved to win but that is a familiar story which doesn’t result in points. The positives from the game for me were:
1. Rosicky was at the heart of everything. He is a really skillful player who can penetrate. He is also learning to tackle and win the ball back. If he can stay fit, and be picked, I think he could make the difference as he has at the end of the last two seasons.
2. Giroud is a cracking player. He may not run around all the time but he has the makings of a big goal scorer.
3. Wilshere looks to have bulked up a bit and is a powerfully midfielder who can change games like Gerrard at his best – if he stays fit.
3. Gibbs was solid throughout. He looks like he could fulfil the promise.
4. Koscielny and Mertesacker were pulled around for the second goal but otherwise played really well. Koscielny was man of the match for me even without the goal.
The negatives were:
1. Gnabry, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey looked like excitable kids. I know it’s a friendly and it’s a chance to impress but they just don’t carry the same weight as the rest of the team. They play as if they have to beat every player on the field and make every tackle however unlikely it is.
2. Walcott is starting to settle down but the fans just seem to want him to run at players all the time. He is too quick for the supporting forwards and he still doesn’t have the end result. It would be nice if he had the luxury of Ryan Giggs to be part of the play but not the lead character.
3. Podolski. I really like him as a player but he seems out of sorts and out of position somehow. He gives the impression that played in the right way he could be unstoppable but that Wenger isn’t playing him in the right way. He was played as a winger but he looks the Alan Shearer type to me and he strikes the ball really well.
My final observation is that the Arsenal fans around me were a disgrace. I know that the fans at a pre-season friendly, including me, will not be the ones there over the coming months but the language around me was shocking. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to a few football matches over the years at different grounds and know the score but I wouldn’t be bothered to go every week surrounded by that shower. Booing your team off at half time in a friendly and groaning when a move breaks down? Booing Higuain when he came on – I suspect he never got the chance to sign for Arsenal because no bids were made which were acceptable for Napoli but that he had agreed personal terms. If anything he should be booing Arsenal for not following up their interest and making him settle for second best.
Not for me. Napoli were 2nd in the Italian league last season and although they’ve lost Cavani they have strengthened in lots of other ways. It wouldn’t surprise me if Wenger walked in the first half of the coming season and Arsenal fans will really see the error of their ways. Those of us who remember watching the team in 1996 and seeing the instant transformation in players such as Lee Dixon under Wenger will be forever grateful. He introduced the mantra of Quality into English football. His first transactions included selling Eddie McGoldrick, David Hillier, Steve Morrow, John Hartson and Andy Linighan while bringing in Patrick Vieira and Nicolas Anelka. He is competing on unfair terms with other clubs who will always have more money to spend and is helping the club punch way above its weight. In many ways I think he is becoming Thatcheresque – criticised by people who never knew what it was like before, hounded out of office and then revered as a game-changer when it’s too late. You don’t have to be a fan but you should recognise the achievements.