Hello again Gooners. This is a time in the pre-season where I can’t stand the anticipation and end up going to a reserve game. Borehamwood FC is my next port of call.
I didn’t make it to St Mary’s Arsenal’s double-header against Anderlecht and Southampton, but I managed to catch up with the matches on Arsenal Player. As much as I disagreed with Stewart Robson’s comments about Theo Walcott, I really miss his tactical analysis. For some reason I’m always confusing Stewart Robson with Stewart Houston, who was our caretaker boss 1995 and 1996.
As a result of the confusion, I feel the time is right for some historical digression! It was a major surprise to me when George Graham brought Houston in as his assistant manager in 1990. I couldn’t stop associating Houston with Manchester United and I’m assuming that’s where George met Stewart. Of course, professionally they had a lot in common, having played exclusively in England despite their roots north of the border.
Although I was delighted when we bought Alan Ball for a record transfer fee in the early 70s, I didn’t realise that we would have to sell George Graham to Manchester United. Arsenal must’ve thought it was good piece of business to sell “Stroller” for £120,000. We paid £75,000 to Chelsea and threw Tommy Baldwin in for good measure back in 1966, so it was a decent profit on a player who had given six year’s worth of sterling service to the club.
Anyway, getting back to the point, ha ha! I didn’t exactly welcome Houston with open arms when he came to Highbury. However, when appointed caretaker boss, he proved critics like me wrong by taking us to the European Cup Winners’ cup final, where we were unlucky to lose to a last-minute goal from Nayim – cue jeering from Spurs fans who loved to sing: “Nayim from the halfway line”.
Then, of course, I was grateful for the stability he offered the team during a turbulent time. Bruce Rioch kept him on when he became boss, and as the fellow Scot’s time was short-lived Houston had to grab the managerial reins once more.
When Arsene Wenger was appointed Arsenal boss, Huston resigned and resurfaced at QPR as boss. Huston showed his loyalty to Rioch by appointing him as his assistant, but it didn’t work out and he ended up getting sacked about a year later.
Then Houston had a spell at Spurs with George Graham, but he left that job after Graham was sacked in March 2001. There were rumours in 2008 at Houston was back as a Scout at Arsenal, and now thanks to my confusion many people may think he has a job as a summariser for Arsenal player. Maybe that’s not such a bad idea!
Sorry about that. What a long digression!
Anyway, I missed Stewart Robson’s astute comments while watching the Anderlecht and Southampton games on Arsenal Player. Stephen Hughes did a reasonable job, but my favourite summariser is Robson followed by Perry Groves. I’d love to hear Paul Merson’s views or Ian Wright’s, but that’s never going to happen is it? We just don’t pay enough money for talent, which could bring me nicely on to the transfer front. But like Arsenal, I’m not going to give in to temptation and I’m going to continue to talk about the pre-season friendlies!
So what did we learn from the Anderlecht game? I think we can see we have a good substitute goalkeeper in Damien Martinez. The 19-year-old Argentina youth international kept a clean sheet and showed a good pair of hands. Based on this performance, he should be Szczeny’s new number two.
We also learnt that Arsenal Player can’t spell: Ignasi Miquel is spelt with a “q”, not a “g” as in ‘San Miguel”! It’s a shame that Miquel is off to Brighton as he’s versatile and good enough to be in the first-team squad. He looked a bit rusty at the beginning, but improved as the game went on. Some of his short passes bordered on the criminal as he adjusted to the game, but the Spaniard reads the game so well that I think his future should be at Arsenal. If we sell the 19-year-old I will be absolutely gutted.
Kieran Gibbs was captain for the first game and did okay. Carl Jenkinson set up Henri Lansbury’s goal, and, quite predictably, Marouane Chamakh was the Arsenal player who contributed the least, despite going close to scoring with one shot. He really seems destined for a move elsewhere. Fiorentina have been mentioned in despatches, but they’re not prepared to pay £44,000 a week in wages. So the question remains, who will buy him? Or loan him? Perhaps we can loan him to Newcastle who are hoping to bring back Andy Carroll to St James’s Park. I would prefer it if we offered him to Liverpool plus £18 million to bring Carroll to the Emirates Stadium. Carroll is much better on the ground than people give them credit for and, of course, he’s a real handful in the air. However, his alleged off-the-field activities will prevent Arsenal making a move for him. It’s never going to happen, it’s wishful thinking on my part. Some fans might say we should let Theo Walcott join Liverpool with Andy Carroll joining us in part-exchange. I’d hate to see Theo leave but, with just one year left on his current deal, we might have to bite the bullet.
Back to the friendly again! So who’s going to be in the first-team squad next season of that starting 11 against Anderlecht? Let’s call the casualties of my cull: “friendly firing squad victims” shall we?
Obviously, Jenkinson and Gibbs will be included in the squad, so they won’t be “friendly-fired”. To that I would add Craig Eastmond probably. If it were up to me, Miquel and Martinez would be shoe-ins. I’d have Nico Yennaris on standby for first-team duty, as he never lets the team down, but I’m not too sure about the rest. They still have the rest of the pre-season to prove me wrong, and although Lansbury scored a good goal I’m not quite sure he will make it at Arsenal. I wouldn’t be surprised if he returns to West Ham before the season starts.
Daniel Boateng proved he’s a solid centre back, but I don’t think he will make the step up at Arsenal. Sanchez Watt, for all his pace, will probably be loaned out again and Thomas Eisfeld needs at least another year before he can be considered as a member of the first-team squad.
All in all, we were very lucky to beat Anderlecht. The Belgian champions were much sharper and that was not surprising given their season kicks off quite soon in comparison to ours. Lucas Biglia, and Arsenal transfer target, was good on the ball but perhaps slows up play too much to be a viable proposition in the Premier League. The slower pace of European football suits Biglia better and that’s the reason I hope we don’t sign him.
Looking at the second game against Southampton, we actually played much better as a unit. I’d love to know the name of the guy working for Sky Sports who claimed that Gervinho was the best player on the pitch. Although Gervinho scored, he did little else.
The match went to spot kicks with Kyle Ebecilio missing the crucial one that resulted in a defeat. The Dutch youngster should hold his head up high as he contributed much to the cause. I’d have him on the fringes of the first team this season, personally, as I think his attitude is admirable as is his technical ability and versatility.
Kyle Bartley also impressed, and I think we all know he should get some first-team outings in this forthcoming season. I’m assuming Francis Coquelin will also get quite a few runouts, but apart from that only skipper Johan Djourou, Vito Mannone and Andre Santos are likely to be in the squad.
Mannone had a poor game, in my opinion, but I would still keep him in and around the squad as I feel he is a better option than Lukasz Fabianski.
Jernade Meade did okay at left back, but I don’t see him getting much playing time for Arsenal’s first-team. The same goes for Chuks Aneke, who got crocked in the 29th minute. He was replaced by Martin Angha, who looks a bit too raw for now. But his fellow substitute, Kristoffer Olsson, was determined to impress after a shaky start and even had the audacity to take a penalty in the shootout. I was very impressed with Olsson’s attitude and, although I don’t see him making an impact this season, I don’t think it will be that long before we see him in an Arsenal first-team shirt.
I just want to add that it’s very difficult to judge young players and also very harsh. Their ages mean they always have a chance to prove critics wrong, usually through hard work, dedication and belief. The mere fact that they have played for Arsenal will always reflect well on their CV’s, so even if they go on to play for other teams they should always be proud that they have played for arguably the best club in the world. So to all youngsters who don’t make it at the club, I wish you all the very best for the future.