By Tony Attwood
There’s a big problem with pre-season friendlies. Win easily and those people who very sadly (for them) are unable to find joy and happiness in football (or perhaps in life) denounce it as only a friendly. Unexpectedly lose, and all hell breaks loose as suddenly instead of it only being a friendly it is a clear indicator of what will happen in the league this season.
Last night the Daily Telegraph ran one of its minute by minute accounts of the game and got to half time with these final two entries for the half
Terrible pass from Walcott ruins a promising move.
1-0 to the Arsenal. Sound familiar?
One could almost hear the knives being sharpened – and indeed there must have been some who were ready to make cutting comments about the picture of Arsene Wenger being presented with a Viking sword before the game. (“Cutting comments” – geddit? Oh do try to keep up).
They did warm to it a bit by the end though saying
Arsenal have walloped Viking 8-0. They were made to work in the first half but made to walk in the second in a convincing victory that demonstrated how good Alex Iwobi is going to be and showed that Elneny should have first dibs at partnering Xhaka in defensive midfield. Cazorla will play a big role next/this season, too.
Well well, quite fair.
Of course where the game is handled elsewhere (and very few in the media touch it although most of the pre-season games from Man C, Man U, Liverpool, Chelsea have been covered even when they have been cancelled due to the state of the pitch), we get the usual
Theo Walcott and Joel Campbell paper over the cracks as Arsenal run riot against Viking FK
That’s the Metro and I guess that is going to be the standard line from now on, although to be fair, slightly more reasonably they added
It might just be a friendly against a comparatively weak side, but seeing so many Arsenal players chip in with goals can never be a bad thing.
If the Gunners look a little light of genuine options up front going into the new season, this game might have at least shown that they can rely on goals from their attacking midfielders.
Goodness. The old Metro lightening up a bit.
But no pre-season goes by without me thinking back to 11 July 2003 – Peterborough 1 Arsenal 0 – it was followed by Barnet 0 Arsenal 0. I remember that Peterborough pre-season match because I was there with good friends… and I recall Arsene Wenger walking onto the pitch during the pre-match kick around, smiling broadly, and rubbing his hands together in the way that he has, just meandering around the pitch looking, waving at the crowd as we sang his name.
I remember thinking at the time “he knows something”, but that thought vanished with the result of this and the next game.
In fact the club only won four out of nine pre-season games, but you might recall we still did rather well in the season to come.
Which all goes to prove that you can’t tell too much from one game, although sometimes you can get a bit of a feel of what is to come from pre-season. I recall that after the 27 July 2012 game which Arsenal lost to Man City some supporters became “anxious” about the club’s direction following the departure of Robin van Persie and Alex Song and predictions of ending up mid-table were multiple.
But of course this is not the only time we’ve scored a lot. There was, on 28 July 2008 a knock about pre-season friendly against Burgenland XI, Bendtner scored four in the first half and Vela three in the second as Arsenal won 10-2; that was the season we beat Real Madrid in the warm ups.
In fact there is a whole series on “Arsenal in the summer” covering getting on for 50 of Arsenal’s pre-seasons – and more are added as the Arsenal History Society continues its series on Arsenal in the 1930s (which reminds me I have got a couple more to add – must do that today).
So “no need to get excited” as Bob Dylan wrote in “All Along the Watchtower” (there’s a review of that on Untold Dylan – the musical extension of Untold Arsenal), but every reason to have enjoyed what we saw, and to realise that, as we have shown so often of late, it wasn’t that we were missing a top goal scorer, it was that we were missing the men behind him – most particularly the utterly wonderful and glorious Santi Cazorla, that extraordinarily ambidextrous player.
£10m he cost from Málaga four years ago; a transfer that was widely derided by those who deride such things largely because he clearly wasn’t much good if he only cost £10m and Málaga were rubbish, and if he were any good he would already be at a bigger club.
He got the man of the match award in his first game, won the goal of the month a couple of months later and became a complete fixture, playing every league game in his first season, and all but one in his third, and was man of the match in the demolition of Villa in the cup final.
But the injury last season took him totally out of the squad after 15 games, and I think we really did miss him. It was interesting that Ozil’s game had to change after Santi left the side – he was the perfect foil; he was injured in the draw with Norwich, and that was that. We stayed until 17 January, but two wins in nine around that time did it for us. Had Santi been there I think it could have been different.
Of course every team gets injuries, so what we need to do is to make sure we have enough players to cover the times when those injuries come along. And looking at this squad I am calmly (as opposed to my normal mode of rampant hysteria) confident.
What I’ve been looking out for (amidst all the wild ravings from others about signing centre forwards because we scored three goals fewer than the champions last season) is the performance of the youngsters, and the hope that we might see another player who is equal to a signing but is not considered one because he was nurtured by Arsenal.
Another Bellerin, Coquelin, Iwobi…
We’ve got a fair number to choose from:
- Jeff Reine-Adélaïde – heralded last summer and kept at the club as the awful Jonathan Liew snorted derision at him, and at Arsenal fans who appreciated young talent.
- Chuba Akpom – thought by some fans not to be up to it because he didn’t score enough at Hull (forgetting the way the team played and the dominance in the team of Hernández), but scoring in every game in pre-season. Pre-season isn’t the real thing, but scoring in the friendlies is at least a start.
- Serge Gnabry – still only 21 and currently off at the drugs fest in Rio.
- Rob Holding – I’ll include because he is only 20, and came as a very low cost “underwhelming” purchase.
- Takuma Asano and Kelechi Nwakali signed this summer (it has taken the media a while to catch up with the Transfer Index over Nwakali, but he is one of ours).
- Krystian Bielik, Chris Willock, Gedion Zelalem: they are not necessarily starting matches but they are getting time in the pre-season games, and their time could come in the season.
- Carl Jenkinson – still out injured but played a lot of games for WHU, although we look to be well-equipped at full back, but he could be there if we need him.
If the last few seasons are anything to go by, one of these ten players (yes ten players who could make it – how many other clubs have anything remotely like that) will come through in the same way as Iwobi, Coquelin and Bellerin.
I know the anti-Wengerians didn’t get the point of my last piece and will not share my optimism, but maybe that’s just it. I’m an optimist.
And I really did enjoy yesterday evening’s fun. Oh and I haven’t quite finished with the issue of why the media and a lot of “fans” endlessly put Arsenal down. More on that later.
If you have been, thank you for reading.
A transfer to remember from the anniversary files
6 August 1977 Pat Jennings signed for £45,000. He had played 591 games for Tottenham but his club seemed to think at at 32 he was too old to continue. Also cited as several other dates up to 11 August.
- Viking – Arsenal 0-8: OOOOOOOOhhhhh Santi Cazorlaaaaaaa
- The Vikings vs The Arsenal. They have Thor and the longboats. We’ve got the gunpowder.
- Scoring more goals by buying a defensive midfielder…
- Why the notion that Arsenal desperately need to buy a centre forward is nonsense.