After a spectacular day at The Emirates Cup yesterday (see my recap here if you missed it), Arsenal are back at it today against Monaco. The unconventional scoring system of the two-day competition sees Arsenal in the lead by a large margin after the 5-1 rout of Benfica yesterday, so there might be a trophy (albeit not a real one) raised by the Gunners later today. With a real trophy up for grabs next weekend, another strong performance today could set the club up for a wonderful start to the 2014/2015 campaign.
This is essentially the last preseason game of the summer, and while we are all ready for the season to begin, I’m sure Arsene Wenger would have liked another game or at least a little more time with the late World Cup arrivals. The German contingent won’t see a single minute of preseason action, and Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny will only have today’s game. Many of the players look ready, but some are still a ways off fitness-wise.
Today’s match will be all about Alexis Sanchez, who will start and play the first half alongside Giroud up top. Given only a short time to form any sort of connection on the field, it will be pivotal that they learn how to play with one another quickly. The match will also be big for Jack Wilshere in the midfield, who will look to build on last week’s positive showing against the Red Bulls in his deeper role on the pitch.
It will also be the unofficial debut of Mathieu Debuchy at right back, who will have a hard time surpassing the performance of young Hector Bellerin yesterday. The defense in general has not looked particularly sound this preseason, but it’s hard to criticize when players are out of position and haven’t played with one another. Getting Koscielny and Debuchy on the same page today will be a start, but it will be down to work on the training ground once Per Mertesacker returns to get this defense ready to go.
The lineup I expect to see today at the start of the match is as follows: Wojciech Szczesny, Nacho Monreal, Laurent Koscielny, Ignasi Miquel, Mathieu Debuchy, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud. There will be some cameos from players who started yesterday, and one of Monreal or Kieran Gibbs will start again at left back. I think it would only be fair to let Monreal play a game at his natural position, so I’d give him the nod. Expect Chuba Akpom to take over for Sanchez at the half.
Unfortunately, I won’t be able to watch today’s match. With a spotty internet connection and only Spanish commentary to listen to, I think this is one I can miss. Had yesterday’s match not been so satisfying, I might have felt worse about missing it, but instead, I’ll be out on the links with my brother and a couple of his friends. I’ll have something to say after watching match highlights, but I won’t be able to do player ratings for this one. Best of luck to the team today.
Now to the Red Sox. For the first time in forever, I’ve been excited to turn on the games this series. While the team will be out of contention for the last two months, a mixture of new players and youth will make the Red Sox watchable the rest of the way. The lineup now contains players capable of getting hits, and while we might lose games 8-5, we’ll still score more runs than the team did when A.J. Pierzynski was batting sixth. At least this style of bad baseball will be more enjoyable. And an outfield with both Yoenis Cespedes and Jackie Bradley Jr. will be fun to watch every time out.
Allen Webster was on the mound yesterday and once again he failed to impress. In my eyes, he’s a poor man’s Daisuke Matsuzaka right now – a player who doesn’t want to challenge hitters in the strike zone. Webster has the stuff of a major league pitcher, but he looks like he’s afraid to throw strikes this year. The memories of throwing too many strikes and getting destroyed on the mound last year must be clear as day in his mind, because it’s evident that he’s shying away from contact. When a pitcher hasn’t established himself, pitches off the strike zone are always going to be called balls. The walks will quickly pile up like they did yesterday. Even if you don’t get hit hard, walking the bases loaded will lead to disaster more often than not.
I think Webster needs to try attacking hitters again at the major league level. He’s a better pitcher now than he was a year ago, and he can’t shy away from hitters any longer. If he wants to keep his spot in the starting rotation for the rest of the season, he’ll need to prove his stuff can translate to this level. Otherwise, Anthony Renaudo showed himself to be more than capable on Friday.