It’s been a mentally exhausting last few days in the Boston sports world, and my energy for watching sports was a bit fried yesterday. I’ll be turning my attention to soccer this weekend with the Emirates Cup though as we near the start of the next Arsenal campaign.
The arrival of the Emirates Cup means that the start of the soccer season is nearly upon us. The two day, four match tournament is in its seventh year, and is one of the better preseason tournaments in my opinion. While having games in back to back days is not a realistic test of the players, it provides stiff competition for teams over 180 minutes. It’s a great way to judge where the team is at in their preparation, and it will give the full squad a chance to get in significant time on the pitch.
This year’s Emirates Cup brings Valencia, Benfica and Monaco to North London. Arsenal open play against Benfica today, and it will be the home crowd’s first chance to see this year’s team. This weekend will likely see most of Arsenal’s summer signings make their unofficial debuts, and I’m sure everyone will be eager to see Alexis Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy and Calum Chambers in action. Personally, I’m quite excited to see how Chambers does, especially if he lines up next to Laurent Koscielny in central defense.
With the FA Community Shield a little more than a week away, it is preseason crunch time. Kris Olsson and Jon Toral have returned to the U-23 side, and the Arsenal teams on the field this weekend will be ones directly preparing for the coming season. There will be no false-nine experimentation this weekend. Expect Arsene Wenger to be in mid season form on the bench.
It’s hard to know who will play today and who will play tomorrow, but I would guess Wenger will mix it up a bit, incorporating likely starters into both matches. But the lineup I would like to see today against Benefica is one near to what I’d like to see against Manchester City next weekend. I want to see Wojciech Szczesny, Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny, Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, Mathieu Flamini, Aaron Ramsey, Joel Campbell, Tomas Rosicky, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Yaya Sanogo today, leaving Alexis Sanchez’s debut until tomorrow.
I am really looking forward to watching Campbell play this weekend, as it will be his first time ever in an Arsenal shirt in a match of any sort. A good performance could see him as a surprise inclusion in the starting lineup next week, but a bad one might lead Arsene Wenger to look elsewhere for cover in the forward area. I know it’s unfair to judge a player on one preseason game, but Campbell is in a peculiar position. Wenger needs a secondary option up front, and at this point, I don’t think Campbell will be trusted to lead the line unless he proves he can do it.
Aside from him, the other Arsenal player that desperately needs a good Emirates Cup is Sanogo. The young Frenchman simply has to score to boost his confidence going into the season. He more than anyone else needs to see the ball hit the net. Sanogo has a lot of skill up top, but a striker needs to score at some point if he’s going to be effective, and he has yet to score for Arsenal. It’s obviously still preseason, so a goal now wouldn’t count toward his overall tally, but the confidence boost it would give him could send him on his way to a better second season in London.
I think beyond individual performances, it will be important for Arsenal to find fluidity in their play this weekend. The first two preseason games were against far worse competition, and the Gunners rarely faced any problems in the midfield. But now, in order to break down a talented Benfica side, they’ll need to start putting things together in the final third, turning long strings of passes into chances. It is also important that new defenders Chambers and Debuchy integrate into the side smoothly. Keeping a clean sheet would be a great sign of things to come. This weekend’s games are the last meaningless ones. So the time is now for Arsenal to put things together.
It will be wonderful seeing Arsenal back on the beautiful Emirates lawn. And with every passing second, we get closer to the start of the new season. It’s almost here. I expect a fun weekend of action at the Emirates Cup. Check back later for my player ratings and analysis after the match.