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And off we go: Arsenal vs The Billionaires. The background, the teams, the complete guesswork

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If you think you know your Arsenal, it is time to think again. Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football.

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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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49 comments to And off we go: Arsenal vs The Billionaires. The background, the teams, the complete guesswork

  • zdzis

    They had 9 players at the Euros, I don’t think anyone of them will be involved in this game. Which doesn’t really affect them that much: Pantilimon is a decent keeper, the Kompany-Toure pairing is not much worse than Kompany-Lescott, Barry is a poor player, so is (currently) de Jong, you don’t need Balotelli when you have both Aguero and Tevez, and who needs Milner when you have Johnson. Yep, I’m just saying they are stronger than us, as far as numbers are concerned. What will hurt them the most will be the lack of Silva, but we’re also working without a real playmaker (outside Chamberlain, who’s still learning the trade).
    Unless they are far ahead on fitness, it’s going to be an interesting game.

  • WalterBroeckx

    All the time in the world and yet just 10 min for kick off I have an appointment with the doctor to decide on my wobbly knee. I hope he is on time so I can be home for the second half. Ah f*ck… 🙁

  • akasuna

    I saw flashes of Ramsey’s brilliance in the Olympic game. Good watch..hopefully he gains a lot more by playing in the team GB..

  • Gerry Lennon

    I thought the ‘first eleven’ in the Malaysian game looked lsss sharp than their counterparts. I hope Diaby can get through these games without the niggles of his body being ‘out of sync’, as he then will then have more confidence in his natural game the more he plays.
    I also thought Coquelin had ‘bulked up’ since the beginning of last season – a few trips to ‘Holland and Barrat’ perhaps?
    Mannone will probably be one who steps down for today’s match, despite having a good game. No chance with their goal.
    The best outside chance ones of making the squad this season from what I saw, were Miguel and Yennaris. The former is better positionally, both have speed, but Yennaris is a cleaner tackler than Coquelin. If Steve Bould works on his positional play he will see some game-time this season. Early days, but I was impressed. Need to see more of Eisfeld, but as I am already a fan of his, I am expecting big things from him as the season progresses.

  • jeremy

    Yeah Akasuna, Ramsey did have alot of the ball in the friendly against Brazil, he is a good mid fielder, completely changed my opinion of him… think he will have a good season too. I sure hope so.

  • Interesting take on Man C at the moment. Mancini is said to be unhappy about the lack of new signings and has fallen out with Marwood who hasn’t gone to China.

    Adebayor, Santa Cruz and Bellamy are still on the books, Bridge’s salary is subsidised, and Mancini won’t play them. FFP looms.

    So makes a change: Arsenal busy in the market Man C static.

    Seems there is also some debate about City stopping paying people £10,000,000 a year salaries as they did with Touré, s Tevez and Aguero.

    Maybe the world is changing

  • Mick

    Tony it seems Man City are possibly aware of the FFP implications but conversely Chelsea appear to be sticking two fingers up given the amount of money they have spent, and they say they haven’t finished yet. Do they believe they have found a loophole one wonders?

  • Mick – I think that Man City feel that they have got themselves up to the top and won the league, so now they must turn attention to keeping that squad together, and meeting FFP.

    Chelsea clearly were quite a way off at times last season, and they have the problem of an ageing team and a youth policy which unlike Arsenal’s is not delivering. So they have to buy and work out the FFP later.

    But I find the response of Man City heartening – it means that they really are considering FFP and that suggests that these clubs do think it matters. For a while I was thinking that they felt they could just ignore it all.

  • Bit of an update from China.

    Mr Wenger has said…

    “The players who play in the Premier League will play on Friday night.”

    But of course that could still mean that they will only get half the game. Maybe it doesn’t mean much after all!

  • Heci

    Tony,

    There are many ways to go around the FFP.. In fact Man C already did one of them- the 400 million pound contract for the stadium name rights. I don’t they are really worried about it, but that’s just me.

    I hope Afobe gets another chance up front and is more concentrated in his finnishing.

  • Heci

    I mean, don’t get me wrong- it is LOGICAL to assume they are wary of it, and maybe they want it to seem that way. But the reality is that this is a club run of people that have NO limits to finances and I think they (as the other top clubs in EU) will have found possible tactics regarding the FFP situation. Sorry for the double post.

  • Goona Gal

    2 down, after playing well. I must say Man C doing better defensively than us.

  • Armin

    Apart from those two cheap goals it looked even good, considering Citeh played more “serious” games than we did and has probably stronger squad on pitch right now. Jenkinosn look quite promising offensively.

  • Goona Gal

    @ Armin – agreed. I am loving the fact also that the Birds nest are like our ‘home crowd’ there. Even booing Howard Webb!

  • WalterBroeckx

    i’ve only seen the second half but that was very decent.
    In fact this could turn out to be a brilliant pre season tactics.

    We leave two of our best defenders at home so they can not get injured.
    We leave our best strikers at home so they can not get injured

    The backups can prove what they are worth up front (finishing is a bit of a problem for the moment)

    when the season starts nobody will have a clue how we will play with Giroud and Podolski in the team up front.

    I think from Monday or tuesday on things will become very serious for the whole team and the real work will start from there one.
    Only one game in the open in Cologne where we can see how we will really look like…

  • I must say I am concerned about the conditions Arsenal are playing in. I was in Beijing five years ago at this time of year and the weather was like we saw here – downpours turning to flood like conditions very quickly. The end of the game was just plain silly with the ball not moving across the grass at all.

    But on the positive side Oxlade-C looks better and better, Coquenlin is settling in, Miquel looks like he has really come on from last season. Early days but promising on that front.

    But oh these grounds – cutting up in Malaysia, dangerous slippery conditions today – do we have to wait for someone to get injured before we say, “oh maybe we shouldn’t do this, even for money”.

  • Mick

    I had to turn the sound down after the first 10 minutes listening to plonker Robson sniping at our boys at every opportunity. Boy does he hate our club and manager. That apart a good display by all concerned. I do like the look of Aneke and Ox was fantastic, how unlucky to hit both posts! I almost hope Wenger doesn’t buy any more players so as not to disrupt the progress of the youngsters, I get so much pleasure seeing them develop even if we don’t win anything.

  • Goona Gal

    It’s a shame that the headline 2-0 defeat won’t tell the full story. Arsenal never looked out the game and came very, very close at least 8 times. We look like we have the makings of a title challenging to be honest.

    The Positives
    In the first half I most liked the dynamism of Gervinho, was involved in a lot of our best forays going forward. He seems revitalised and confident to try so many different things.

    I liked Jenkinsons attacking involvement going forward, he put Man C under pressure. Also covered a lot of ground when needed in defence. What I like is the real improvement in his game. Even had the confidence to shoot.

    Bartley – Was strong, alert and for the most part read the game well. This was a genuine opportunity to show what he can do and he gave a good account for himself.

    Diaby – For such a big guy, at one stage he looked like he was dancing through the Man C players! I refuse to get my hopes up, but if I dared to dream him lasting a whole season…amazing.

    Not so good
    Arteta – misplaced passes and one of the criticism’s of his game is that he picks safe passes over passes which would open up our midfield too often.

    Theo – Had a couple of chances, but was defensively poor when Man C had the ball, their players were able to run past him like he wasn’t there.

    Song – Quite a few missed placed passes led to serious counter attacks.

  • Goona Gal

    There are so many positives to take from the second half really.

    Iggy – In his CB role looked strong, stronger than last year and really closed down Man C players. It was great to see him get into physical duels also.

    Alex OC – His willingness to take on players, is not only exciting to see, I think it is infectious within the team. Players have confidence in his ability as they know he will try something and so look for him to play him in.

    Aneke – Again, demonstrating the range of talent I have spoken about for ages. Amazing passing range, long, short, it does’nt matter as for they are for most part clever and accurate. When Song went off, I thought we would lose something in midfield, but that wasn’t the case because he was imposing and won challenges. Almost scored and had an assist.

    Eastmond – He came on and you can’t really say that he was a weak link at all. If this is a second chance for him, then he is taking it seriously and repaying AW. Whilst he didn’t do anything spectacular, what he did do was get his positioning right and never made it easy for Man C. He is really showing versatility and giving Le Boss a reason to keep him around.

    The not so good

    Chamakh – Did’nt really defend from the front, which was a skill I really liked about his game previously. Dropped deep into midfield and never really looked like he could beat his man. He was’nt bad, but considering this massive opportunity, he should of shown more desire.

    Coquelin – He didn’t read the game as well as I would of liked, gave Man C space to pass the ball around and also should of hung back a bit when others went forward.

  • bjtgooner

    Yes the result was not a fair reflection of the game, however,if you can’t get the ball in the net…..

    It was a good workout for all the players and apart from finishing we were just as good as City. The young players all looked promising – esp The Ox and Miguel. The Ox does look as if he could develop into an attacking midfielder as well as a winger. Either way he will be a class player – lets just remember he is still very young and not put him under too much pressure too soon.

  • LRV

    Goona Gal: Who is Iggy? If you forgive my ignorance.

  • Goona Gal

    @ LRV, no probs,its my nickname for our spanish defender ignasi miquel.

  • Paul "the Gooner"

    I watched the match and i think we were ok.Some positives to take from this.Read the Guardian blog, a f..k..g disgrace.This blog has been repeated by all the others, word for word, including the Sporting Life.
    Go to Newsnow Arsenal and have a look!.the good thing is that pleny of gooners have made the same comments about the match that we were as good as them.Wankers!

  • ak47

    we buy the pod and giroo then the rest of the team start shooting on site, with decent efforts to be fair. after launching this season with a kit based on target practice. hmmmm.

    I think frimpong may have lost his place to aneke. really like his presence, ability and attitude.
    was hoping to see more of coldgrass, and afobe seems to be a confidence player.

  • Paul "the Gooner"

    just to say the reporters are wankers, not the gooners!

  • Goona Gal

    @ Mick, I am the same, I don’t really enjoy transfer speculation at all. I much prefer to see our youth develop and break through into the first team.

  • Goona Gal

    @ AK47 – Aneke & Frimpong are very different players. Both are a benefit to the squad.

  • I think we are seeing the implementation of having more players available so that if we suffer another crisis in which every single player in a certain position (eg all the full backs) are injured (perhaps through targeting of them, as we discussed last season) then we still have options.

    What we are seeing is players being used in all sorts of unexpected positions – Santos for example. Coquelin is being given a variety of tasks just to give him that experience – but I doubt he will be asked to play the sort of role we saw today unless we are utterly desperate because of injuries.

  • Goona Gal

    I would like to give credit to Man C’s defence though, it was very well organised and it shows in contrast that we still have a lot to do as I think we have players that can play like that also. I would like to see us try and play a game in pre season where we focus on our defensive strategies. There was one corner where no one went for the ball at all when it was crossed in. We win corners but don’t really seem to be able to convert.

  • bjtgooner

    @Goona Gal

    Some good points there – the City defense was tight and also their keeper had a good game.

    You are correct about corners – with our attacking play we must win more corners than most other teams, but we convert far too few into goals. When defending, we do look vulnerable at times to set pieces, although last season this gradually improved.

  • Goona Gal

    @ bjt, I agree their keeper was excellent and probably was their MoTM. He was the one that saved a fast curling shot from Park I think last season when we lost to Man C in the Carling Cup last season. I was very happy to see us make those attempts from range as it will keep GK’s on their toes.

    Steve Bould probably can’t wait to get all the defenders back and together so he can get to work. As much as I hate to say it, the way Chelsea defended against Barca was excellent. I am not saying park the bus, but in the very least, Arsenal players need to be able to get tight quicker and hold their shape better.

  • WalterBroeckx

    I think we need a Giroud-type at our set plays to cause trouble for the opposition. Oh wait a minute, we got him already 😉

  • @Mick talk of that whore-lists Robson he hates us with a passion. So Gunners, fasten your belts and get ready to rumble because this season we will be seeing and hearing those asses a lot(d webs). All in all i think Man-city is going to be a pain in d ….
    Mancini has his first eleven sorted out and trust me its the team to beat. Arsenal as always, we had the best chances and we did play well but what matters are the goals and we did not get any.But i do believe Le Prof have some answers hidden somewhere and when he unleashes it’ oh boy we might be in for a surprise.

  • Kentetsu

    @Tony about field conditions:

    Don’t expect much better in Hong Kong. After the strongest typhoon to hit Hong Kong in thirteen years hit Hong Kong past Monday, there has been non-stop rain for five days. Today is the first day that it finally stopped raining. And I don’t expect them to have a fancy drainage system in the stadium in Hong Kong.

  • Woolwich Peripatetic

    Good to see Aneke showing what he can do, the boy has pretty much everything you want in an Arsenal central midfielder, he’s equally technical and physical. His shot was pretty good, though quite easy for the keeper to read as it was the only angle he could thread the ball through – I think he managed to hammer it between four City defenders, not easy at all to execute and the keeper has to be very alert to the danger.
    I find it amazing that in the modern media age, journalists will blatantly contradict each other (read the Guardian’s own MBM then the match report) and think they can get away with it.
    That they can is just depressing.

  • WalterBroeckx

    I think considering the weather conditions we really should reconsider the tour for next season. This makes no sense and is only dangerous for the players to get injured

  • bob

    DarthWenger, All,
    The Manchester Guardian ran a Press Association (not its own writer’s) account of the match – which still, as you suggest, completely reflects its Sports Department vicious line on AFC.

    First, notice what this leaves out: “In contrast [to ManShitty], Wenger had most of his senior players available, although Robin van Persie was absent.” (Obviously, this statement disappears Giroud, Podolski, Mertesacker, Rosicky, Wilshere, Ramsey, etc., none of whom were in China)

    Secon, based on the writer’s (above) construction of our team’s composition, he reaches this conclusion about what occurred on the pitch:
    “Wenger played down the significance of the outcome but there did appear to be a gulf in class at times as the rain hammered down and with no signs that a 19-point gap between the teams last season is likely to be closed to any great extent.”

    And the takeaway: Two talking-point woundings that try to produce the most negative possible image of AFC/AW at this moment: “Arsenal’s manager admitted he was disappointed with the result and became irritated when continually questioned about Van Persie. ‘We have many strikers back home that we will be able to use throughout the season but our main aim now is to prepare for the start of the campaign,’ he said. ‘The Chinese Arsenal fans were outstanding all evening – unfortunately, they were better than our players on the night.'”

    This anonymous writer (who should step out of the sewer and into the light, then return) earns his money by crafting such sewage. Its anonymity is telling. Lacking David Hytner to write back from China this summer (he was there last summer), they rely on this PA account to do their collective, departmental dirty work. Make no mistake, this unsigned account is their editorial line on AFC. It is not reportage. Not journalism. Not neutral. Not ethical. Utter prostitution (not to give sex workers a bad name).

    There should be a boycott of Guardian writers from access to AFC/AW’s press conferences. A complete and utter disgrace from a paper that prides itself on its social conscience. I grant the latter, but when it comes to football, it has disgraced itself and deserves nothing less than a thorough cleansing of its stables. And Amy Lawrence, the purportedly fair broker and since-childhood AFC-backer, you ought to be ashamed of the company you keep in order to keep the day job.

  • bob

    Walter,
    It’s not only the weather, but the time lost in integrating our new signings until AUGUST, the very month when as we all know that the season begins. This trip is an Emirates Airlines spectacle and has negative (not neutral) impact on football preparation and team chemistry. At the “triumphant” spring press conference that announced this tour, Arsene looked like a captive. No affect at best. People hereabouts on UA have gone on about oh how we need to juice up our Asian fanbase. Well it better sell a lot of merchandise, or result in a blockbuster sponsorship deal.

    The best advertising is to be a success on the pitch. And this requires time – time to integrate and gel and learn each other and produce chemistry among lots of new (to each other) players.

    From last summer, our supposed big takeaway lesson was never again to lose the precious time needed to gel. This summer the precious time being lost is down to this business-only “2012 mini tour.” The midfield is unsettled (not Tony’s “visionary” corps) and it is both currently injury-wracked and historically injury-prone. This whilst the front lines are at Colney. And that link-up, as everyone knows, is all important. Even with a new (hopefully) creative midfielder on the way, is there enough time left to gel and create real effectual chemistry? To me, it is a reckless gamble, based on Emirates short-term business agenda. But only time will tell. Do you think, given the choice, that Arsene Wenger would have chosen the grand mini-tour or the traditional sojourn to the Austrian Alps? Let’s be honest.

  • bob

    p.s. For one factor, try comparing the de facto summer air quality in Beijing vs the Austrian alps. Do you want a healthy team? or do you want more tee-shirt sales and first-class tickets on the Airline?

  • bob

    kampala gun,
    The secret? Well, it’s an open secret – except to the Guardian’s match report – that the starting front-line is back in London, not in the Bird’s Nest. So what comparison here has any real value?

  • Asif

    @Bob – “This anonymous writer (who should step out of the sewer and into the light, then return)!” Well said…I guess the stink in the sewers does show in their writings too. What I fail to understand is why this prejudice against Arsenal? Why?

  • Stuart

    Asif,
    I have a feeling it is because Arsenal has more supporters who get into media and blogs related to their club. Have a look through Goonernews and then check the pages for other teams Fulhamnews, Walkon (Liverpools one) and the rest, some of them have no ‘fan created’ sites like this one where as Arsenal have loads. Ones like Talk etc… all must do it to get the clicks and the advertising revenues

  • Stuart

    I must add, I just noticed the latest Talk Shite headline, Robson says Arsenal must move on from Van Persie distraction.

    The guy is clearly clueless if this story is about what I think it is about. The only people still going on about it are Talk Sport and a few other journos, they need to move on or prefereably jog on.

  • iniez

    Stuart @9:43,
    I noticed the same thing (and like you I haven’t bothered to click on it either). This guy really hated arsenal before, and now that he’s been fired he’s even more bitter. No doubt he’s looking for a place on talkshite to..well..talk shite

  • Pat

    Hi Bob. The Guardian doesn’t have a social conscience. It just pretends to.

  • bob

    Asif,
    By now, Arsenal-bashing has become institutionalized as a reliable revenue stream for most mainstream UK media outlets and their pundits. A kind of reliable national joke that is so entrenched as to go by without being seriously questioned. I think the longer-standing reasons for it – the Why? – lies in several converging factors. This clearly deserves and would take a serious, disciplined study; and some of us here over the past two seasons have offered our pieces, even at length, to this larger puzzle. I, for one, don’t have a grand theory that ties all the reasons together; nor imo is there a single “magic bullet” that explains everything. Like anyone, I can only hypothesize. Surely this question deserves a long monograph-length analysis, if not a book. But here are some converging factors, several of which (that I know of, at least,) have been aired in wonderful discussions and debates throughout UA over the last few seasons. I’d like to offer some reasons Why in another posting or two; perhaps an article. But my basic approach is to look for the convergence of a set of factors: cultural (AW as “johnny foreigner”); economic (the intensification of competition for top-flight positions as its money rewards greatly accelerate over a given duration of time); the demonization of newcomer/unwanted competitors (AFC/AW) by opinion-leading jornos and pundits. I think that EPL football has truly become economic warfare with unequal TV revenues, advertising dollars, and the massive payoff offered by Champions League participation; making every season as a de facto war, especially at the top, with unprecedented tangible results. In addition, this has played out ideologically: whereby AW counterposed a self-sustaining and revenue-sharing business model in opposition to the growing Billionaire Takeover Model: this featured in a rare and very important (2-part) 2009 interview with Murdoch’s Times of London and The Daily Mirror. Here’s a link to Part One (and you can find the link to Part Two in my next comment): http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-1206377/ARSENE-WENGER-INTERVIEW-The-transcript-Martin-Samuels-fascinating-meeting-Arsenal-manager–I.html

    …more to follow.

  • bob

    Pat,
    Whatever else you may dislike about The Guardian, it didn’t pretend to take the lead in breaking the phone hacking of more than 4000 UK citizens, for the last two years, and well ahead of the rest of the pack. This might qualify as having a social conscience. Then again, to see this, you’d have to take the step of separating football matters from what matters.