Arsenal finished up their tour in Asia with a match against Hangzhou Greentown. It was the first opportunity for Arsenal fans to see them back in action after a two month layoff. The first goal for this tour was obviously to get the players match fit for the start of the season, considering that Arsenal must start the season without any hiccups. While conducting their regular practice sessions the squad got a chance to meet with some of the fans and also tour both cities, something which they haven’t been able to do at past training camps in Austria. This was an extremely good opportunity for the club to see the support that they have during the year.
It was definitely a new and exciting opportunity for Arsenal fans in Malaysia and China as they were able to see many of the Arsenal stars that they can usually only watch on TV. The club had set up many different events for some player/fan interactions. I am sure that for most of these fans it was a once in a life time opportunity to be able to meet many of the players and to actually be able to see Arsenal play live at the stadium. The fans could be seen everywhere Arsenal went, and I for one was extremely surprised with the fan support received in both Malaysia and China. The football culture, and support for the club seemed to be very similar to that in England.
This was the first opportunity that Arsenal fans got to see youngsters Ryo Miyaichi and new signing Carl Jenkinson. In my mind both these players excelled and it seems as though both of them could be impact players in the coming years. With the way Miyachi and Jenkinson played in the two matches, it seems as they could add some depth to the squad and would be great replacements to allow some of the other players to rest for some of the games next season. When Miyaichi got comfortable playing on the wing you could really see him projecting great confidence dribbling the ball past defenders and setting up the other guys and hopefully this tour wasn’t the last time we see him in an Arsenal shirt this year.
Carl Jenkinson also had a good first impression down that right hand side. In both games he was very active up and down that right side and he seemed comfortable with the system that Arsenal employ, overlapping with the mid-fielder on that side. It seems as though Arsene wants to use him as a second choice right back behind Sagna and even though Jenkinson is not all that experienced I think that he has solid qualities to be a right back and hopefully give Sagna some rest.
Arsene Wenger was very pleased overall with the tour, and that’s because he was able to get all his players some playing time and was able to assess all his player and see where they all might fit into the squad come August. After the final game today Wenger told the club website: “In China and Malaysia we are starting to become really popular so that is a positive sign. We have had a good experience as a team together.” With a positive reaction from Wenger, it would not surprise me one bit if he decided to take the squad back to China next year. Hopefully after this Wenger realizes how much better a training camp like this is, because not only do the players get to relax and meet fans from different countries, but they also have the opportunity to train the same way they would and I think for the players it is a good mix for them to be able to mix business and pleasure together.
All the players seemed to have similar reactions to the support that they received while in Malaysia and China. Most of the players seemed to feel similar things that Arshavin mentioned on the club’s website. He talked about how this type of a pre-season is different than those in the past, and how he thought that this pre-season was one of the most enjoyable one’s because they had a chance to tour the cities and meet a lot of the fans that they would never get to meet in London. I think that for the players something like this would be very enjoyable, because they get to see the fans from out of the country that support them every week no matter what the end result of a match is.
For too many years now Arsenal have suffered from defense lapses at horrible times. There are a lot of incidents that can be mentioned in the last year alone but the strategy of the defense has never changed. There have been many calls for a change in centre-back because of the silly goals that are given up because of a lack of communication and smaller build. The most crucial goals that Arsenal have conceded season after season has been through set pieces, bringing back the question of those centre-backs.
Another cause for concern in this upcoming season might be the left back position which now lacks experience. Both Gibbs and Traore can be slotted into that position, but both have flaws that can be exposed and may cost Arsenal again. Both players showed that they have the capability to play in the position in both the pre-season games, but the experience that Clichy has taken with him will not be easy to replace. Wenger has played Gibbs on more than a few occasions, but it seems as though each time he plays, he has to leave the game with a knock. Traore hasn’t played that much for the first-team and so I am not sure as to what he brings, but based on what he did during the pre-season I think that he is capable of taking over that spot. Arsene Wenger saying that he won’t be replacing Clichy with another signing is worrying because now is not the time to experiment with young guys. Not having won in so long Wenger needs to realize the importance of a quality defender, at both the centre and left back positions.
Overall, this pre-season tour should be looked at as a success, and I think there is a lot that the players can take away from this. Now that they have visited Asia and know the support that lies within Asia they should try and use this as a motivation knowing that they are playing for a lot more people than they ever thought possible. A pre-season like this might also be good for the team because even though they were put through some intense work outs during matches and even in practice sessions the squad got to just relax and have some fun in a place where they may have never been before. Hopefully, this pre-season plays out into a successful season for the Arsenal.