The main interest of the Emirates Cup is to see how some youngsters are developing and what are the manager’s plans for them. It’s also an opportunity to help the more seasoned players get fit. Arsenal thrashed Benfica 5-1 on Saturday before losing 1-0 to Monaco on Sunday. Freshness plays a key role in those summer friendlies. No Gunner in Saturday’s starting lineup played a single match at the World Cup whereas Sunday’s team included Cazorla, Giroud, Sanchez, Wilshere, Koscielny and Debuchy, who all wasted some energy in Brazil.
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Let’s start with the positives. Paying Southampton a reported fee of 16 million pounds for a defender with only one Premier League season under his belt seemed a bit much. But Chambers’ performance last weekend showed Wenger still has some flair for a good investment. The English teenager read the game well and displayed tremendous poise.
Chambers teamed up with Monreal at centerback against Benfica and surprisingly looked more solid than the Spaniard. That was an unusual position for Monreal but the manager’s rationale behind that move is pretty simple: Monreal lacks a bit of pace as a fullback and Arsenal might only have two proven centerbacks if Vermaelen leaves the club. Sagna’s stint at the heart of the defense last season was a success, so why shouldn’t we try a similar experiment with Monreal?
Another positive from the Emirates Cup was Bellerin. The Spaniard has much better passing and dribbling skills than Jenkinson. The key question is whether Bellerin will learn quickly enough to improve his defensive skills. In the first half, he showed the technical gap with Jenkinson by dribbling past two Benfica players. However, the second half also betrayed his youth as Bellerin forgot to mark Gaitan, who headed in a consolation goal. Some fans feel sad that Jenkinson was loaned out to West Ham. However, Jenkinson had plenty of time to prove himself in three seasons with Arsenal. He showed his hunger on the pitch but also some major weaknesses in his decision-making, positional play and aerial abilities.
Sanogo couldn’t find the net last season. On Saturday, he scored four goals in a 24-minute span. That will obviously boost his confidence and hopefully Sanogo will give Giroud more competition for the starting spot at centerforward. I never doubted Sanogo’s abilities. He made plenty of smart runs last season but the issue was always his finishing. Sanogo finally converted his potential into goals last weekend.
Wenger’s patience with Sanogo
You can see the difference between Wenger and the other managers when you analyze how Sanogo’s career has been handled at the club. Wenger knew Sanogo wasn’t ready for the Premier League when he was signed from Auxerre in July 2013. So the manager decided to help Sanogo bulk up his frame for about six months. How many managers would be patient and wise enough to invest so much time in a player’s conditioning?
Then Wenger had two options this summer: either loan Sanogo out to help him regain some confidence or keep him in the squad. The manager chose the second option, which can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, Sanogo will have more competition than last season and could possibly fail to play a decent number of games. On the other hand, the club can monitor his development and make sure he plays the Arsenal way. I guess what swayed Wenger is Sanogo’s profile: he is not as fast as Sanchez and as powerful as Giroud but he’s a good compromise between the two.
More striking options
Sanchez was quite sharp in his Arsenal debut against Benfica. I was especially impressed by the Chile striker’s workrate. If you need to press high up the pitch, he’s the kind of player any manager would be craving for. Hired for a reported fee of 35 million pounds, Sanchez is more integrated in the team’s passing game than Walcott. While Walcott mostly makes assists with crosses and cutbacks, Sanchez is a more gifted player and can deliver pinpoint through balls. Having Sanchez in the squad means we depend less on Walcott for speed. That’s also one more outlet for Ozil, who prefers forwards getting in behind the defense.
The Emirates Cup raised a few questions, too. Wenger said Campbell is part of his plans for this season, which makes sense since Podolski is too inconsistent and Walcott is still recovering from a knee injury. The Gunners definitely need more options up front and no one will deny that Campbell is an upgrade over Bendtner. Campbell showed glimpses of his talent by scoring with a low volley against Benfica. But he also missed the target twice from close range in the first half. The next step for the Costa Rica striker will be to improve his focus.
Can Zelalem toughen up?
Zelalem has received a lot of praise but what Sunday’s game showed is that he needs to bulk up. The German teenager fell to the ground after a fair challenge from Monaco midfielder Bakayoko. That’s the kind of situation Zelalem could face every week in the Premiership, which is arguably the most physical league in Europe. However, fans at the Emirates Stadium could see Zelalem’s potential in the 81st minute, when he played Akpom in. Monaco goalkeeper Subasic tripped Akpom inside the area and was lucky to get only a yellow card for what was a clear scoring chance.
Miquel and Coquelin also got some playing time but I guess their career at Arsenal won’t last long. Coquelin has been at the club since 2008 and his loan spell at Freiburg last season was not successful. If Coquelin doesn’t convince the manager at the age of 23, I doubt he’ll ever make it. Miquel is one year younger than Coquelin and never quite managed to enjoy a breakthrough season. On Sunday, Miquel killed a counterattack with an obstruction on Monaco forward Germain. The right choice would have been to run backward without giving Germain any dribbling options. Hopefully, the few interested clubs will remember the Benfica match when Miquel’s header bounced off the bar and Coquelin’s low effort hit the post.
Saving private Wilshere
Let’s move now to the negatives. I didn’t like Giroud’s performance. He might be out of shape, but that does not justify his nonchalant behavior against Monaco with at last three turnovers in the first 30 minutes. Wilshere is also late on his fitness schedule and I’m sure the smoking during his holidays didn’t help. He received a yellow card for a late tackle on Monaco fullback Dirar.
When you are still young, your lungs recover quickly from a few puffs. And that’s the way Wilshere must feel. But it’s a different story when you are in your late 20’s. To a certain extent, Wilshere reminds me of Gascoigne, a talented player who struggled with drinking and smoking throughout his entire career. The difference is that Wilshere has a manager who really takes care of his players. Will Wenger succeed in saving Wilshere’s career?
Same old story about set pieces
Last but not least, the two goals conceded by the Gunners came from set pieces. A lapse of concentration on a throw-in allowed a Benfica player to divert the ball toward Gaitan, who headed home. Monaco striker Falcao capitalized on a marking mistake from Koscielny to score the winner from a Moutinho free kick. The players and the staff have less than two weeks to iron out those flaws.
Here’s how the squad more or less looks like at this stage of the pre-season:
Goalkeepers: Szczesny, Ospina, Martinez.
Leftbacks: Gibbs, Monreal.
Centerbacks: Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Chambers, Miquel, Hayden.
Rightbacks: Debuchy, Bellerin.
Holding midfielders: Arteta, Flamini, Coquelin.
All-around midfielders: Ramsey, Wilshere, Diaby, Toral, Olsson.
Playmakers: Ozil, Rosicky, Eisfeld.
Left wingers: Podolski, Cazorla, Miyaichi.
Strikers: Giroud, Sanogo, Sanchez, Campbell, Akpom.
Right wingers: Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gnabry, Zelalem.