Good morning, everyone. Today is a great day, for the 2014/2015 Arsenal campaign unofficially kicks off with the first friendly of the summer. The wait between the World Cup and the start of the Premier League will feel like an eternity, but games like these ones help help make the waiting a little easier.
Before I get to Arsenal though, I want to say something about the Red Sox. Don Orsillo has been the team’s outstanding play-by-play commentator since 2001. He is so good at the job that you take him for granted sometimes. He is rumored to be in a contract dispute with NESN, the Red Sox’s TV station, and his forced in-season vacation right now makes it seem like NESN might be nudging him out. I can’t stress enough how big a mistake that would be for the network. Watching the last few games without Orsillo in the booth have been painful on multiple levels. Jerry Remy’s color commentary is replaceable, but Orsillo’s play-by-play is not.
Now to the Gunners. I know very little about Boreham Wood, Arsenal’s opponent today, but it’s not the opponent that matters in the first game of the year. It’s about the players slowly regaining their form and fitness, and it’s about giving youngsters a chance to prove they belong in the first team. Even if Arsenal were playing a high school team, it would still be a valuable exercise for the preseason’s first game.
Personally, I thoroughly enjoy watching these games. It’s not that I want to see the starting 11 on the field though. I prefer watching the youngsters, and it’s usually my only chance to do so. Players like Thomas Eisfeld, Kris Olsson and Chuba Akpom excite me tremendously, and I love getting a look a their development. And beyond that, there is usually an abundance of goals in this first friendly against the inferior competition. While the goals might not be the prettiest at this stage, it’s nice to see Arsenal players hit the back of the net in any situation.
I don’t have many expectations for today’s game, because Arsenal haven’t said much about the squad they are planning on playing. They’ve suggested many of the first team players who weren’t in Brazil will be on the field, but I’d imagine there will a number of new faces mixed in. And I would guess as many as 22 or 23 players will see the field. Beyond saying that they’ll be wearing the new yellow Puma strip, Arsenal have offered very little about the preparation for this game other than a series of pictures yesterday.
The first thing I noticed in those pictures was the presence of Francis Coquelin. Remember him? Wearing yet another different number this year, Coquelin has seemingly returned from a season-long loan in the German Bundesliga. I don’t know how long he’ll stay around, but it was a pleasant surprise to see his face again. I’d almost entirely forgotten about him, and a quick internet search suggests most Arsenal fans are in the same boat. It wasn’t that long ago that the versatile young player was starting Premier League matches at the Emirates.
Obviously, this match and the rest of the preseason will be vitally important for Coquelin’s chances at Arsenal. Should he put in a series of impressive displays, Arsene Wenger might have to give him another shot. But if he doesn’t, a transfer arrival at the defensive midfield position could send Coquelin on his way out the door for good. For his sake, I hope he gets a chance to see the field today.
The other first-team player I think preseason will be important for is Yaya Sanogo. I’m sure I’ll have much more to say on him in the coming weeks, but Sanogo has been somewhat of an enigma in his year at Arsenal. I’d be inclined to say he impressed me last year, especially in the biggest matches of the year – remember that his two best displays were against Bayern Munich in the Champions League and off the bench against Hull in the FA Cup Final. However, he never scored a goal. And for a striker, that’s not a good statistic. He simply must score this summer to show everyone he is physically capable of putting the ball in the net.
Carl Jenkinson could also use a huge performance today, as this might be his last shot at convincing the Arsenal brass that they don’t need further cover at right back. Jenkinson should get the start today, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him be the most dangerous player today. With Mathieu Debuchy coming in as the starter, I would like to see Jenkinson go out on loan to another Premier League club. He needs playing time to keep improving, and it would be a shame to see his growth as a player stunted by a lack of time on the field. Remember that not long ago, he earned an England call-up.
I am way too excited for this match for what it is. But it’ll be great to see the Gunners back in action. I’m sure I’ll have lots to say post-game, so check back later today. COYG!