Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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Arsenal May Have Lost, But It’s Not a Big Deal – Player Ratings for the Second Preseason Game

Arsenal may have lost a preseason game to an MLS team, but it was a game that meant little in the grander scheme. There is no need to panic. With only one true center back and striker on his roster, Arsene Wenger played an experimental side against Thierry Henry’s Red Bulls that didn’t create a ton of chances, losing 1-0. It was more of a training exercise than anything else, as I can’t imagine Arsenal will ever play with a false nine again this year.

It was a rather dull game, one I am glad I didn’t waste time and money traveling many hours to get to, given the lack of firepower from Arsenal. The Red Bulls played a good game, and showed themselves well, but the win means as little for them as the loss does for Arsenal. It’s always wonderful to see The King, Mr. Henry, around his old club, and he gave a satisfying performance. He looks like he still has a lot left even as he approaches age 37. The highlight of the game probably was when Henry was withdrawn, as it gave everybody a few seconds to appreciate him.

For Arsenal, integrating the next wave of World Cup arrivals will be crucial going forward, as there was a serious lack of depth in certain areas against the Red Bulls. With only a couple weeks left before games begin to matter, time is running short, and Wenger’s men will need to focus doubly on preparing for the opener. Promotional trips to New York may be fun, but training for the new season is much more important. The training camp in the quiet of Austria this week should do a lot of good.

On another note, the ESPN commentary during the match was quite noticeable. It was supposed to be Jon Champion and Taylor Twellman in the booth, but Twellman’s sickness brought regular studio analyst Alexi Lalas into the booth. I fell in love with Champion’s play-by-play style during the World Cup and I was not disappointed with him in this game. However, Lalas may have been the worst color commentator of any sport I’ve heard since Bret Boone in the 2003 MLB playoffs. Lalas had no idea when to talk, and gave way too many one-word answers. The awkward silences when Champion needed Lalas to say something were rather entertaining at times. It goes to show that not everybody is cut out to be a color commentator, even former players.

Player Ratings (1-10)

Tomas Rosicky – 6/10 – In the unfamiliar role of false nine, Rosicky gave an honest effort. While he never looked likely to score, he made a few decent runs and was always dropping deep to receive the ball. I don’t think he’ll play the role again, but it was fun for a half. In the second half, he was much more effective in his normal position.

Gedion Zelalem – 6/10 – With many eyes on the 17 year old, Zelalem may have underwhelmed a bit. It wasn’t that he was bad, he just didn’t seem eager to take men on when he got on the ball. He looked much less comfortable on the wing than he did last week in the middle. He did do well to set up Jack Wilshere on a one-two though.

Santi Cazorla – 6.5/10 – In his return to action, Cazorla looked his usual self, popping up in every position along the frontline to receive the ball. He had one nice effort from distance, and in general, I felt he looked quite lively. But his set pieces were far from impressive. However, that Cazorla was fit enough to go seventy minutes is a good sign at this point in the summer.

Aaron Ramsey – 7/10 – Despite having two blades of grass stuck to his forehead for much of the first half, Ramsey looked as calm as collected as ever, making driving runs through the midfield and winding up in dangerous areas. His tackling was effective as well. He looks just about ready.

Jack Wilshere – 7.5/10 – I felt Wilshere did quite well. He started in a deeper role, and won a few balls with well-timed tackles, showing off the extra pace he can add beside Arteta. And as the first half went on, he ventured forward and had Arsenal’s two best chances. On another day, he might have finished them. But it’s a good sign that he was finding himself in such good positions.

Mikel Arteta – 5/10 – Arteta looked slow against some of the Red Bulls pacier players, and wasn’t at his best in the middle of the park. Most of the Red Bulls attacks came straight through the middle, and Arteta wasn’t dealing with them properly. While he completed a number of passes in the back, he did have one noticeably bad giveaway that any Premier League striker would have finished. He also was a step slow on the Red Bulls goal, failing to get to Wright-Phillips in front of the net.

Kieran Gibbs – 7/10 – Gibbs appears to be as ready for the season as anyone. Looking quite comfortable in his new number 3 shirt, Gibbs got to the byline a few times and wreaked havoc whenever he got forward. Defensively, his positioning was solid as well. And he played the entire game.

Nacho Monreal – 5.5/10 – Monreal played a foreign position at center back and it was pretty obvious he wasn’t at ease in the middle of the defense. I would imagine he and Hayden haven’t played together too often, but it was noticeable that the Red Bulls had little trouble passing the ball to a runner in between the two of them in the first half. He’ll have his work cut out if Wenger wants him to be an option in the middle. He also was in no-man’s land on the Red Bulls goal from the corner.

Isaac Hayden – 6/10 – Along with Monreal, Hayden looked a tad inexperienced. While he did make a couple of nice tackles, he wasn’t always aware of where the strikers were around him. As he matures as a defender, he’ll need to focus on the communication aspect of the defending, as he and Monreal looked like they were two individuals rather than a unit at times.

Carl Jenkinson – 6.5/10 – Jenkinson always is ready to play. Knowing his time at Arsenal could be limited, he was an eager runner, getting forward quite regularly. There wasn’t much for him to do defensively, but he had one or two timely headers. I hope this isn’t the last game he wears an Arsenal shirt.

Wojciech Szczesny – 6/10 – Szczesny was a little busier in his half than he would have liked, but he did well to deny Henry in the opening minutes. He was also quick to get down on a second occasion that went wide. But on the goal, he could have been more proactive in getting off his line. The fault should be on the marking, but the Polish keeper will feel he could have done better.

Substitutes

Chuba Akpom – 6.5/10 – The young striker continued to show confidence beyond his years. He looked dangerous every time he got near the ball, and nearly set up a goal for Diaby. He might have done better with the left-footed shot he got on the break midway through the second half, but overall, it was another performance that showed Akpom could be useful in the near future.

Kris Olsson – 5.5/10 – Having stolen the show a week ago, Olsson failed to make the same impact in New York. In a 20 minute cameo, Olsson couldn’t find the right passes. And his free kick in extra time was disappointing.

Jon Toral – 5.5/10 – Toral hardly had a kick in his 20 minutes on the field. He played one nice through ball to Gibbs down the left, but overall, he didn’t set the world on fire.

Abou Diaby – 6.5/10 – Diaby was relatively quiet, but it was another 45 minutes without injury. And his brilliant finish on a disallowed goal should give him some confidence as well. He looked composed on the ball as always.

Mathieu Flamini – 6/10 – Flamini played a few nice balls down the right for Bellerin, but he didn’t have a whole lot to do overall. Alongside Coquelin, he kept the Red Bulls relatively quiet in the second half. But he might have marked his man better on a cross late in the half.

Francis Coquelin – 5.5/10 – Coquelin seemed to be pressing, trying to do too much with his opportunity. While he showed a lot of desire to get forward, and put in a good shift defensively, he lost the ball carelessly a couple times. It’s admirable that he is trying so hard to get back on Wenger’s good side, but he’ll need to be more disciplined to earn the manager’s trust again.

Ignasi Miquel – 6.5/10 – Miquel wasn’t involved much in his half of football, but he made a few nice clearances. One tackle in particular, followed up by a wonderful ball over the top, nearly set up Akpom for a tying goal. It was a quiet performance, but he didn’t do anything wrong.

Hector Bellerin – 6/10 – The young right back was lively going forward as always, but his crossing wasn’t accurate enough to create any chances. He wasn’t called upon to defend often, but he let his man get in a cross too easily at one point. However, he does look dangerous when he’s running forward down the right.

Damian Martinez 6.5/10 – I have to admit I have very low expectations for Martinez, and his wild flail at a header that went well wide did little to settle my nerves when he touches the ball. But he ended up doing quite well, coming out with confidence to claim a few crosses. It was a good performance from the young keeper.


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Arsenal Visits The King’s Court- Previewing the Second Preseason Friendly

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!