Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Shortened pre-season to be tested by City

As Germany deservedly celebrated their World Cup final win, there can’t have been a single Arsenal fan who begrudged Per Mertesacker, Lukas Podolski and Mesut Ozil their winning moment. It came at the end of a fantastic tournament, and was a double success for the three players following the FA Cup win at Wembley a couple of months earlier. All Gooners had been German for the night and it was great.
However, it hasn’t taken long for me to be lamenting international football again. The season hasn’t even started yet and I’m doing it. While it was genuinely brilliant to see Arsenal players with their hands on the biggest prize in international football, the season is less than two weeks away (and sort of starts on Sunday with the Community Shield) and Arsenal’s German contingent are still having their necessary breaks following the exertions in Brazil. Even though, on paper, the Arsenal squad can deal with missing those three players despite Mertesacker and Ozil almost being guaranteed starters, those who have come back to pre-season after a post-World Cup rest are still getting back up to speed, potentially making Sunday’s Community Shield against Manchester City a tougher test than usual.
With the tours to various parts of Asia in recent pre-seasons, the Gunners have normally had plenty of games under their belt before the serious stuff starts, sometimes as many as seven. With the World Cup making pre-season start slightly later than normal, and with no trips to the Far East, Arsenal have only played four games in the build-up to the new campaign. One of these was an extremely gentle run-out at Boreham Wood and another included a striker-less line-up at New York Red Bulls.
With less matches, and travelling, the Arsenal squad will have been able to do more training, but the results of truncated pre-season for many will really tested at Wembley on Sunday. In the Emirates Cup over the weekend, some players, like Yaya Sanogo, looked refreshed from all the training work they’d done in pre-season, instead of playing in numerous games against random opposition. In contrast, Olivier Giroud looked knackered from the start against Monaco after an intensive first week back after the World Cup.
Less games could still play into Arsenal’s hands though, with players potentially being fresher for the early run of matches, rather than being burnt out from too many pre-season matches, some of which are often for purely commercial reasons rather than necessarily being what Arsene Wenger would want the players to be doing.
Given Arsene Wenger’s impressively decisive and quick work in the transfer market over the summer, it is a shame that the shortened pre-season hasn’t allowed much time for the whole squad to gel together before an important August starts, with a Champions League qualifier sandwiching a tough away trip to Everton. I didn’t think it’d be possible to get annoyed at such an exciting tournament, but the likely sight of Mertesacker, Ozil and Podolski in the stands for the opening day of the season means I’ll be cursing the national team game again, with three Gunners only being a week into pre-season.
I don’t really quite know how to approach Sunday’s game at Wembley. Yes, it is effectively just a glorified pre-season match, but it’s still a trip to Wembley, it’s a chance to continue the momentum we gained from winning there in May, it’s a chance to send a message to other clubs in the league that Arsenal are ready to challenge the top teams, and it’s a chance to unleash Alexis Sanchez on English football. Hopefully another good week of training will be enough to dispel any concerns about a lack of match practise. There was a marked improvement on the team’s performance in New York for the games in the Emirates Cup following the training camp in Austria, so further improvement at Wembley should be expected.
The Arsenal squad is in a much better place than it was going into last season, but there are still squad depth concerns, particularly at centre-back. Sunday should go some way to showing how deep those concerns should be, and how effective the shortened preparation has been for Arsenal.