Club Focus – Arsenal – Pre-season preparations take a few hits

A brand new season draws closer than ever and English Premier League sides like Arsenal are preparing for a grueling season set to get underway on August 15. Four trophy-less seasons and understandably fans at the Emirates are gradually losing patience over the club’s long term plans. Yet, in Arsene Wenger they still have a prudent manager whose calmness through all the ups and downs of the last few seasons gives Arsenal fans genuine belief that success is on the way next season.

Currently on a pre-season tour of Austria, the Gunners have added just one new face in the summer – Ajax club captain and Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen has been signed for a fee believed to be around £10m. The 23-year-old looks to be a solid addition to the squad and certainly an experienced signing who has both Champions League and UEFA Cup outings for Ajax and has been a regular figure in the Belgian national team.

Primarily a left-footed centre-back, Vermaelen can also play at left-back giving Wenger a semblance of flexibility in his defensive plans for the upcoming 2009/10 campaign.

Arsenal launched their pre-season campaign against fellow North Londoners Barnet on July 18 at the League Two side’s Underhill stadium. This has been a traditional fixture for the Gunners for the past decade to kick-start their new season and this year’s fixture is going to be remembered for the much awaited return of Czech international Thomas Rosicky after a frustrating 18-month injury layoff. The highly rated midfielder last played in Arsenal colours during an FA Cup tie against Newcastle United on January 26, 2008 when he hobbled off injured. In fact the rehabilitation process was so complex that even Wenger admitted fearing for his player’s career. But Rosicky marked his return with a fluent 45 minutes that brought back smiles to every Arsenal fan and his return can be likened to a brand new signing.

It was a good test for Arsenal against an adventurous Barnet side. A 2-2 draw at the end of the end of the day might not look like a great result by any means, still the friendly served the purpose of exposing the whole Arsenal side to a football match after a long end season layoff. Vermaelen was the only player to play the whole 90 minutes, putting in a promising display. Strong in the air, the 6’0” defender looks confident with his positional play and ball control. Arsenal’s goals were scored by Andrei Arshavin and Nacer Barazite.

The north London club’s pre-season preparations received a jolt when it was finalized that star striker Emmanuel Adebayor would join big-spending Manchester City for a substantial fee of around £25m. Whilst selling the Togolese striker is a major depreciation of Arsenal’s strike force, one hopes Wenger and the board will now use the money judiciously in seeking Adebayor’s replacement despite the French manager recently hinting he may not be buying anyone. Yet Wenger has a few options in his mind should he go for new signings, most notably Bordeaux frontman Marouane Chamakh. The Moroccan has been on Arsenal’s radar for quite a some time now but according to the player’s agent and Bordeaux officials, the striker- who played an important role in helping Laurent Blanc’s side win the Ligue 1 last season scoring 14 goals – feels the Emirates is not the likely destination with Sunderland looking set to hijack the deal. Furthermore, Bordeaux’s insistence of demanding Mikael Silvestre in addition to the substantial, undisclosed transfer fee has hindered the deal getting through. Players such as Real Madrid’s Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Toulouse’s Andre-Pierre Gignac and even Tottenham Hotspur’s Roman Pavlyuchenko have been linked with a move to N5. Yet, amidst all the usual transfer rumours flying around, Wenger is keeping his cards close to his chest right now. No doubt Arsenal are looking for new players, but the biggest challenge for Arsene Wenger and the management is to keep star players such as Cesc Fabregas and Nicklas Bendtner at the club given the money available at the likes of potential suitors Barcelona, Manchester City and Real Madrid.

The club’s pre-season preparations at Austria took a bad hit this week when influential midfielder Samir Nasri fractured his right fibula ruling him out for the start of the season.

As friendlies come thick and fast, hard work is just getting started for the Gunners. Arsenal recorded their first pre season win this week beating Austrian part timers SC Columbia 7-1 although next week sees Wenger’s men facing stiff ‘friendly’ resistance in the form of Hannover 096, Atletico Madrid, Glasgow Rangers and Valencia.

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