Arsenal is in the my home country right now for preseason, and every picture of the players I see out and about in New York City makes me question why I didn’t make the trip to New York for the weekend. I really should be at this game, but I decided it wasn’t worth the 5 hour trip and an expensive ticket. When the only real option for getting tickets was buying Red Bulls season tickets – something that didn’t seem worth it for someone living in Boston – I made the decision to watch on tv. Had I not seen Arsenal play at The Emirates last March, I probably would have done everything possible to get there, but this time, I decided it wasn’t worth all the effort for a preseason game lacking most of Arsenal’s stars.
However, I am excited to watch this game on tv, as it feels like it’s been a while since last Saturday’s friendly with Boreham Wood. We are getting ever closer to the FA Community Shield and the start of the season, so each preseason game should be a little crisper than the last. I hope we see a side closer to the one that will start the opener – with young players getting a chance in the final 30 minutes – but I expect another mixture of experience and youth from Arsene Wenger’s side.
The World Cup has really taken a toll on Arsenal’s preseason roster. There are very few options anywhere except for the midfield. It’s a little alarming that Ignasi Miquel is the most experienced central defender on the roster right now. With Thomas Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny yet to return, Wenger will have to field two center backs who hopefully won’t play a minute of Premier League action. Those returning will only have the Emirates Cup to prepare for games that matter, so this preseason game does little in way of preparation for the season defensively. And up front, there isn’t a single experienced player in New York right now.
However, I am particularly intrigued about the lack of strikers included in Arsenal’s squad for this trip, with the young Chuba Akpom the lone player capable of playing up top. While I am always excited to see him play, I take this as a sign that one of two things might happen this afternoon. Either Wenger will try an experimental lineup at some point – potentially even employing somebody like Tomas Rosicky or Jon Toral as a false nine – or more likely, The King himself, Thierry Henry, will put on an Arsenal shirt today. Wenger’s hint that the latter could happen was seen as a joke by the British media, but I’m not so sure he was joking. I’m sure Henry would like nothing more than 45 more minutes playing for Wenger, and in a friendly like this, why would his Red Bulls stop him?
Whoever he suits up for, I’ll be excited to see Thierry Henry as a part of the festivities, either on the field or as a sort of ambassador between the clubs pre-game. His presence around Arsenal training this week should have done wonders for a lot of the young players, who should look up to Henry as the ultimate Gunner. I would absolutely love to see The King play for Arsenal this afternoon.
By my count, 11 of the squad’s 20 members are central midfielders, so more than a few players might have to play foreign positions today, especially with zero true wingers on the roster. Wenger might even have to change his tactics for this game because of his personnel. However, that might make a friendly like this one more interesting. The starting lineup I want to see for this game is Wojciech Szczesny, Carl Jenkinson, Isaac Hayden, Ignasi Miquel, Kieran Gibbs, Mikel Arteta, Abou Diaby, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Jon Toral and Chuba Akpom. I would imagine Cazorla and Wilshere won’t go more than a half, so there will be plenty of time for the likes of Kris Olsson and Gedion Zelalem to see the field later on.
I want to see Diaby starting ahead of Ramsey today because I think he needs as much game-action as he can get to feel more comfortable going into the season. Missing as much time as he has in the last few years, every touch he takes will go a long way towards restoring his comfort level on the field. Diaby will be the senior player I’ll be most eagerly watching, as I do think he has a lot to contribute should he stay healthy (knock on wood). And Ramsey looked quite comfortable last week, so an easier game from the bench could be all that is needed for him to build fitness.
As far as the youngsters, I think most will be watching Zelalem as he plays in his home country. While he isn’t technically a United States international, every fan there will be hoping this won’t be the last time he plays in the states. I also will be paying extra attention to Akpom and Olsson, as they are two who could be ready to take the leap into the first team this year. They looked good last week, but that was hardly a real game. Boreham Wood is definitely not Manchester United. But then again neither are the Red Bulls.
Overall though, this game should be entertaining on a few different levels. The team sheet alone will be interesting to look at given the strangely constructed roster, and any appearance for Thierry Henry will be magical. I might not be able to get player ratings up right after the match, but I should have them posted by midnight hopefully, so check back periodically if you’re interested. If they don’t get up today, I’ll have them for sure tomorrow morning. COYG!