|Pre-season Grinds On|
Before we get to the reason for the post, I'll also take a moment to bask in the excitement of the incredible weekend in Philadelphia sports. The Phillies (baseball for those who aren't into the American sports) started the weekend with the best record in baseball. The Eagles (American football) one-upped the Phillies by acquiring a ton of defensive talent as the season gets ready to start which firmly entrenches them as one of the top contenders for the Super Bowl title. The Phillies, not to be outdone, also made a strong acquisition to fill one of the few gaps in their line-up as they prepare for their playoffs in October. Oh, and on the field the Phillies have won both of their games thus far this weekend. Good weekend to be a Philly sports fan.
So, aside from writing and basking in the glow of being a Philly sports fan in 2011, I also got to watch a decent amount of pre-season action. For those who had better things to do with their time, here are some observations from the Emirates Cup and a few Manchester United pre-season friendlies.
- Gervinho is the real deal, he was by far the most impressive attacking player on the field for Arsenal on Saturday against Boca Juniors. He's like Theo Walcott if Theo knew what to do with the ball in positions other than shooting from the top right corner of the 18 yard box. Going to be hard for Wenger to keep Gervinho out of the line-up regardless of who else stays and goes.
- Arsenal desperately need one more central defender. Vermaelen and Koscielny looked solid on Sunday but Djourou and Squillaci just can't seem to stop making errors. If Koscielny/Djourou is your second choice pairing, you can probably get away with that but Djourou/Squillaci would scare the hell out of me. Phil Jagielka, where are you?
- Carl Jenkinson looked pretty solid on Saturday. He got a lot of bad press for his own goal earlier in the pre-season but don't let that shape your opinion of the boy. He is decidedly different from Sagna - Jenkinson isn't quite as fast but seems like a more capable crosser of the ball. I'm less worried about Eboue apparently leaving as Jenkinson seems able to fill the back-up role with less danger of completely losing his cool on the field.
- Rosicky really does seem to enjoy lining up against an American team. I still have nightmares about him from the opening US match in Germany 2006 and he was again exceptional against an American opponent in Sunday's match-up against Red Bull New York.
- Apropos of very little, there was a great line late in the final match between Arsenal and Red Bull NY as John Rooney (brother of Wayne) came onto the pitch to boos from the Arsenal supporters. "He's his own man with his own hair". John has the same style of running but clearly doesn't have the physical gifts of his brother, hard to believe they're even related.
- Arsenal gave up goals late in both matches and ended up with two draws. The media reaction was obvious "same old Arsenal" and to some extent it is justified since you'd think defensive solidity would have been THE major focus of pre-season training. That said, all of those goals came when the majority of the players on the field for the Gooners were second and third teamers like Kyle Bartley who watched as the equalizer was scored by Red Bulls. Would you rather they play lock-down defense against lower level opposition given their recent history? Absolutely. Am I terrified that this is a harbinger of things to come? No more than I am in any season under Wenger.
- Danny Welbeck was the interesting player for me across both matches. It's always hard to tell much when a big team like United plays against a non-team like the MLS All-Stars. It is on tours like this that we start to get over-excited about players like Obertan who aren't ever going to amount to much in the Prem but have superior physical skill to their opponents. For me, Welbeck separated himself from the pack of up-and-coming United players on Saturday against Barca. It wasn't Barca's best defensive team but he looked very comfortable with the jump up in competition level. Hard to know where and when he'll get his chance but if he does, I'd be very comfortable giving him a run in my fantasy team.
- When he's playing Ashley Young seems to be taking the vast majority of United's set pieces. This likely means that BFAY's value stays around the same or even increases slightly since he'll probably get more opportunities. The downside of that coin is Nani who is still a very good player but his fantasy value will diminish greatly if he isn't taking many kicks.
- Rafael went out of the Barca match early with an apparent injury. Hard to tell if it was serious or just a precaution but worth watching to figure out which of the twins is likely to be starting off the season starting at right back. Whichever it is will be a great bargain.
- The big question still hanging over both United and Arsenal is the identity of their starting keepers. De Gea is obviously the big signing and the hope at Old Trafford is that he's the long term answer but thus far SAF has been unwilling to announce a decision and he's played just about everyone on the roster. At Arsenal, everyone but soon-to-be-former-Gooner Almunia has gotten time. My guess is that both youngsters DDG and Szczesny get first crack at the jobs but you just never know. Might want to think about paying up for Joe Hart at home or Given in his Villa debut for the first week of the season.