Monday, July 30, 2007

Gunners shine in preseason competition

If only meaningless preseason friendly matches mattered. But they don't, so I'm not sure what the melodrama is surrounding not only Chelsea's lack of any scoring form against Rangers, but also a nifty but less than threatening offensive onslaught by Arsenal against Inter Milan.

While I did not see the 2-0 victory against the Blues at Ibrox, I did see both the PSG and the Inter Milan game at the Emirates, both games ending in Arsenal victories. Sure, it's heartening to see so many young faces with the technical ability that Arsene Wenger demands, as well as big enough balls to challenge on the pitch when the opportunity is given. I'm thinking of the 17-year old Kieran Gibbs, newly-acquired back Bacary Sagna, as well as a seemingly rejuvenated Alexander Hleb and Mathieu Flamini.

But Milan looked lethargic at times and PSG played well only by default as Arsenal struggled to find a rhythm early in Saturday's game. If there was anything markedly similar to last year's campaign, it was that lack of the final ball in the final third of the field that let Arsenal down. You could tell Hleb was trying to be more decisive, playing in the hole, and the Sagna-Emmanuel Eboue linkup on the right side could be lethal in the coming months. All of this was very pretty to watch, but like last year, much of the spectacular build-up play was wasted as soon an opportunity to finish made itself apparent.

Don't get me wrong, van Persie's goal that put away Inter was a thing of beauty, not unlike a similar goal against Aston Villa a few seasons ago, although that one was at a more acute angle and perhaps more visually spectacular. And we all remember his leaping, one-timed strike against Charlton of last year. The kid's good, real good. Is he Thierry Henry? No, of course not, but a lot will be expected of him this season. My main concern is his durability. You could arguably say that RvP has been cursed a bit, with flukey injuries (breaking a metatarsal after celebrating a goal comes to mind). I have to admit, everytime the Dutchman goes down, I immediately presume we'll lose him for much of the season.

Call it blind faith, or simply Arsenal failing to keep up with the big boys in the transfer window, but I have believed, since the end of last year, that this is a squad able to compete. Whether that happens this year is as up in the air as Wenger possibly staying longer than remainder of his contract. And now we come to a head. Wenger may not sign any more players for the rest of the window and perhaps the rest of the season, which I don't necessarily see as a bad thing. What will be an issue is if Arsenal fans, players and Wenger will be appeased with a piece of silver this year while hopefully entertaining us as they have before, and that requires consistency, something not seen at the Emirates last season.

Van Persie shows there is life at Arsenal after Henry [Guardian Unlimited]


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