Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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A Magnificent Display From Arsenal – Player Ratings From the Emirates Cup

The pitch was perfect, the new Puma kits looked surprisingly good and Arsenal was back at home for the seventh installment of The Emirates Cup. While many in attendance would have been disappointed when they saw Alexis Sanchez wasn’t starting, they were treated to a dazzling offensive display from a host of others. It ended 5-1 to the Arsenal, but it could have been even more.

If the first half of today’s game against Benfica was any indication, this is going to be a really fun year. The starting lineup wasn’t your typical Arsenal side, but it was full of hadr-working, pacey players full of drive to get forward. Unlike many Arsenal teams from years past, they were ruthless in the final third as well. The flicks and turns were gorgeous all day, and they came from just about everyone on the pitch. It felt like someone was finding acres of space every minute.

Arsene Wenger will sleep very well tonight knowing how much offensive talent he has at his disposal this year. Yaya Sanogo and Joel Campbell showed themselves to be more than capable of contributing this year, and of course Aaron Ramsey was back at his best. Even young right back Hector Bellerin put on a show going forward.

The inexperienced defense still looks far from in mid-season form, and it’s worrying that there still aren’t enough center backs to form a true back four with only a week before meaningful games. But the makeshift defense held firm when it mattered for the most part, and they did magnificently when they joined in attack.

My internet connection was rather poor, so I thought I was going to miss the game, but at the last second, I got things working. And I was sure glad I did, as this display has made me giddy with optimism going into the season. Even though the commentary on the feed I was watching was in Spanish, the play on the field did all the talking I needed to hear.

Player Ratings (1-10)

Yaya Sanogo – 10/10 – Four goals in front of the home crowd before the 50th minute was exactly what Sanogo needed going into the season. All game, he showed off what a talent he can be, picking up the ball in deep areas, holding up play excellently, making pacey runs in behind and then cleverly finishing anything that fell his way. None of the goals were from any great distance, but few will care. What an amazing performance. Let’s hope we see a lot more of that wonderful celebratory dance.

Joel Campbell – 8.5/10 – Much like Sanogo, Campbell did exactly what he needed to do today, scoring a well taken volley and contributing all over the field. He did well in possession in his own half, and combined excellently with Bellerin and Ramsey throughout the match in the final third, looking to take on defenders with skill and pace. While he squibbed his two easiest shots, his composed volley into the back of the net showed everyone his quality. This performance should earn him a place in the squad going forward.

Tomas Rosicky – 7/10 – Playing a little deeper than he normally does, Rosicky picked out a number of wonderful passes. He wasn’t directly involved in many of the goals, but he did quite well on the day in an hour of action.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – 7/10 – In only a half of action, the Ox created a number of chances with a variety of passes in the final third. Whether releasing Sanogo on a long through ball, or delicately flicking the ball to Ramsey on the edge of the box, he showed how effective he is in possession.

Aaron Ramsey – 8.5/10 – Ramsey looks ready for the new season, picking up right where he left off. With clever turns and imaginative chips, Ramsey set up a couple of the goals, and easily could have assisted one or two more. He popped up everywhere on the pitch, and was always in the right position. It’s scary to think he could get even better this year.

Mathieu Flamini – 6.5/10 – Flamini covered the inexperienced defense behind him with aplomb in his hour on the field. He was comfortable on the ball and made a couple of key tackles. He is showing no signs of aging.

Kieran Gibbs – 6.5/10 – As always, Gibbs was a menace when he got forward, and he helped set up one of Sanogo’s goals. But defensively, Gibbs wasn’t at his best today, as he could have done better on the Benfica’s goal. He also lost possession cheaply in his own half once which could have proven costly.

Nacho Monreal – 5.5/10 – The left back filled in again at center back and looked very uncomfortable. Composure is a vital part of being a center back and Monreal had little of that in the early going. He left large spaces at the top of the box and was trying to do too much when he got on the ball. He improved as the match went on, but he is a long way from being Premeir League ready at the new position.

Calum Chambers – 6.5/10 – In his unofficial Arsenal debut, Chambers didn’t have too much to do defensively. His positioning was solid, and certainly compared to Monreal, he looked a natural at center back. He also played a couple of nice balls from the back, and seemed eager to bring the ball forward when he got the chance.

Hector Bellerin – 8/10 – Bellerin was magnificent going forward today, combining with the midfielders time after time to get into space down the right. He also had one sensational run through multiple defenders that showcased his skill on the ball. Defensively, he has a little ways to go, as he was caught napping on the goal, but he played a starring role in Arsenal’s offensive clinic today. The young Spaniard may have earned himself a place in the squad with this performance.

Damian Martinez – 7.5/10 – Martinez wasn’t able to keep a clean sheet, but overall, he had a good game between the post. He was called upon to make a couple of saves throughout the match, and he was up to the task. His shot-stopping has gotten a lot better in the last year or so.

Substitutes

Santi Cazorla – 7/10 – Cazorla showed off some skill in the final minutes, and in general looked quite good off the bench. He was all over the field and showed off his two-footedness with a wonderful left-footed corner that nearly resulted in a goal.

Jack Wilshere – 6/10 – Wilshere didn’t make much of an impact in his half an hour on the field, but I’m sure he will be ready to go tomorrow. It was notable though that he was used in a deeper role than Coquelin.

Mikel Arteta – 6/10 – Arteta was quiet in his half-hour cameo, but he looks ready for the season. Expect him in the lineup tomorrow.

Francis Coquelin – 7/10 – Playing a role higher up the field than he normally does, Coquelin put in his best display of the preseason. He was quick to the ball, and picked out a couple of nice passes. He was quite unlucky to hit the post in the final minutes.

Ignasi Miquel – 6.5/10 – Miquel did next to nothing defensively, but he hit the bar with a header off of a Cazorla corner late on. He and Koscielny will partner in defense tomorrow.

Chuba Akpom – 6.5/10 – The young striker was deployed on the right in a brief substitute appearance, but he still was able to showcase his pace by getting onto a couple of through balls.

Alexis Sanchez – 6.5/10 – Taking the field to thunderous applause late on, Sanchez’s appearance was more notable for where he played than how. That Wenger chose to play him in the central striker role instead of out wide could say a lot about the manager’s plans for the new signing. Sanchez was pretty quiet in his brief cameo, but it was wonderful to see him in action.

 

 


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It’s Almost Here

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.