Australia here we come!
A group of 25 players has been selected to take part to the usual increase-your-commercial-revenues summer tour – to Australia, this year.
We started with three consecutive Far East tours from 2011 onwards, which saw the Arsenal playing games in Malaysia, China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Vietnam (remember the Running Man?) and Japan – before deciding for a pause in the summer of 2014, when the majority of our players were just back from the World Cup.
The merry-go-round started again in July 2015, when we visited Singapore, before the team travelled to the US last summer and finally head to Australia and then China – again.
I do miss those Austrian alps! I know modern football is like this and blah, blah, blah but still – how can a team actually prepare the next season, if half of the summer is spent on a plane?
Anyway, rant over.
This is hardly an exciting time of the year, especially if you try not to read every single piece of paper about transfers, but at least we’re playing some football and some prospects will be given playing time.
I will be watching Reiss Nelson, Donyell Malen and Cohen Bramall very closely – especially the former – and see if there’s any sign that might confirm all the good things being said about them.
I know there’s not much to take from a series of summer friendlies but it’s been a very long time since I got excited by a young players coming through the ranks, I am genuinely worried we are in the process of losing our usual ability to mould top performers from a very young age.
Of course I will also watch new arrivals Alexandre Lacazette and Sead Kolašinac, but I don’t expect much from them as they will be building their fitness and connections with their teammates.
Whether the former Lyon strikers scores three goals per game or cannot hit the target once, I won’t care and I won’t participate to the hysteria – either positive or negative – around him.
The very interesting thing will be to see how Arsène Wenger will set up his team: he hinted he’ll continue with three at the back and the anticipated sales of full-backs Mathieu Débuchy, Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson – with no replacements being chased – suggests he will stick to the new formation.
On the other hand, the pursuit of Monaco’s hot-property Thomas Lemar, who mainly played as a left-midfielder, might be seen as a step back to 4-2-3-1 – unless Arsène Wenger sees him as one of the attacking midfielders behind Alexandre Lacazette or even in central midfield, a role the player briefly filled while at Caen.
Should he stick to the 3-4-2-1 formation, that will offer a chance of redemption to some players who has failed to win unanimous recognition from the fans and the press and who failed to establish themselves in the team.
In fact, two of our least-convincing players might be the difference between the success or the failure of this new system.
Let’s talk about Aaron Ramsey, first: as you saw, the new system requires an incredible amount of work in midfield, especially when you play someone anti-dynamic like Granit Xhaka, and few players can ensure the necessary levels of stamina to balance the team.
Aaron Ramsey surely is that kind of player and seems to have the edge over any of his rivals but he’s still too inconsistent, which exposes us to a lot of dangers.
I will always be grateful to the former Cardiff man for the winners against Hull City and Chelsea but I would be even more grateful if you could go back to basics and be his old-self, the hungry boy willing to carry the water he was towards the end of season 2011/2012.
He has the quality and the engine to shine at both ends of the pitch and his wonderful performance against Chelsea at Wembley showed he can still score goals, even when he doesn’t bomb forward every single time.
I’ve often been very critical towards the Welshman because of his tendency to add unnecessary flicks and risks to his game, to the detriment of the team; at 26, he’s one of the most senior figures in the dressing room and I fully expect him to step up and show he’s mature enough to honour the #8 shirt and be the box-to-box player he can be.
A fit and disciplined Aaron Ramsey can be the key to a sustainable challenge, both in England and in Europe.
Another important figure could be Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the man with no role.
Initially a left-winger or even a striker, he slowly became a right midfielder and even boasted ambitions to be a central midfielder, a claim supported by a couple of very good – although sporadic – outings; towards the end of last season, he moved to the wing-back position and shone on both flanks, showing great attitude and ability to provide the odd assist.
He will turn 24 in one month and seems finally ready to make the position his own, for good: of course Hector Bellerín will not go down without a fight but the Englishman has a lot more to offer, going forward.
As shown against Manchester City and Chelsea, he can do the job in defense and quickly turn it into attack, something that Hector Bellerín cannot do with the same quality and speed – although speed is not something the Spaniard is lacking.
His energy and positive attitude, as well as his education as an attacking midfielder, could do wonders to what looks to be a very mobile, unpredictable front-three of Mesut Özil, Alexis Sánchez and Alexandre Lacazette; he can pass the ball in small spaces or dribble it past opponents with ease, something that Hector Bellerín can’t really do, and could be a real threat down the right flank.
Very much like Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will need to show enough maturity to be a reliable member of our starting XI and cut all the superfluous ornaments from his game; very much like Aaron Ramsey, if fit and fully focused on his job he could be a real asset to the team.
Many other players could be decisive factors in our chase for a league title and Arsène Wenger’s first European trophy, if the manager can keep the team intact and fully motivated: I’m thinking about Olivier Giroud, who might not be the ideal candidate to lead a flowing attacking line but could still bang in those vital goals from the bench; I’m thinking of Nacho Monreal, whose reliability and ability to play in different position will help greatly; I’m thinking about Theo Walcott, a player who will never get the faith of Arsenal supporters but will still score plenty of goals and I’m thinking of Francis Coquelin – yes him – because he’s still one of the best ball-winners in the league and his mobility and aggression can add some steel to our midfield, when educated feet aren’t enough.
It’s make or break for a good number of our players – it’s make or break for the Arsenal.