Pre-season is turning the final corner of its last lap, speculation about ins, outs and shake it all abouts, intensifies. Does it matter? Nope; passes the time though. Arsenal head to Germany today for a training camp; it will be interesting to see which day this week Santi Cazorla joins them. Perhaps he has already climbed through an open window in the hotel and is already waiting for his new team-mates. We need to see the kit being loaded onto the plane as well; anything oversized might be housing the midfielder.
That speculation briefly peaked yesterday when the Fifa website announced Rondon’s signature for Rubin Kazan signalled the second departure from Malaga, Cazorla being the first. There was a hasty rewrite that removed the offending paragraph. Fifa has form, jumping the gun on transfers before which is the problem when an official website relies on a news agency for their information.
The training camp in Germany is the chance to hone and integrate the new players into the team. Whether it is the starting line-up remains to be seen. Certainly the arrivals of Cazorla, Giroud and Podolski have put an unprecedented amount of pressure on incumbent players across the frontline and midfield. I cannot recall a time during Arsène’s reign when there was this level of talent at his disposal. If van Persie’s head is not in the right place, step forward Giroud. Gervinho, Podolski and Arshavin fight out the left whilst Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Cazorla the right with the latter pair capable of playing across the centre of the pitch. Rosicky, Song, Arteta and Ramsey need to be at the peak of their powers.
Of course some will leave, their jet plane taking them down by The Thames or some other european destination. For van Persie, the chances of him travelling to Manchester City as anything other than an opponent dimmed to their lowest point with Roberto Mancini’s admission that be unable to shift their deadwood means van Persie is unlikely to join. Expect him to sign by the end of the week as they seek to deflect the media from their tail in this deal. It might be true in which case Rodney Marsh’s curse still stands. Widely believed to be the reason City’s 1972-73 title challenge faltered, Marsh told the world that United are a spent force and that if van Persie wants to win trophies, he ought to join City. And then came Mancini’s statement.
But – and it’s a huge BUT – if van Persie remains, Arsène’s options are varied. The fabled Plan B which Marouane Chamakh ought to have provided now falls on the shoulders of Olivier Giroud, according to Carl Jenkinson at least,
The manager knows crossing is one of my strengths and he has asked me to get as many balls into the box as I can. But, at the same time, he has told me not to cross for the sake of it. It is an asset of my game and one I like to use. We like to keep the ball moving and create goals in different ways – but crossing is a strength that I like to use when I can.
Which is all well and good but I would rather he focussed on his defending first and foremost. He had his warm-ups, getting back into focus, in Asia where positionally the youngster was still in Ibiza. That’s fair enough; pre-season is all about shaking cobwebs and preparing for the time ahead but with so few friendlies in comparison to previous years, next weekend’s encounter in Cologne is rather more edgier than it might otherwise have been.
The defence in general has a huge weight of expectation on its shoulders. Despite Pat Rice being an acknowledged club legend as a defender, the myth was that nobody schooled the defenders in their art, manifesting in the decaying goals against column over a number of seasons. It is a hard point to argue against but too much of that blame is being placed at Rice’s door; he was not the only member of the coaching staff. With Steve Bould’s elevation, expectations surged that things would improve.
The manner of goals conceded in the three tour matches might actually have done him a favour. They were, on the whole, sloppy goals to ship and that deflated the air balloon, allowing the expectations to wheeze out of the small hole. It buys time; it allows Bould to concentrate on that area without a burden being placed following successive clean sheets. You know the scenario would have been blown out of all proportion pre the kick-off against Sunderland until the first goal went in and the criticism returned. At least to some extent, the expectations have been neutered with unrealistic hopes dimmed.
That’s it for today. ’til Tomorrow.