by Nia Griffiths
The Arsenal squad have now returned from their pre-season in Singapore where we won our first piece of silverware for the 2015/16 season (cue enthusiastic applause).
Firstly, we beat Singapore Select XI 4-0 with a hat-trick from Chuba Akpom and penalty from Jack Wilshere. Then, a few days later, we beat Premier League opposition in the form of Everton 3-1 with goals from Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil.
Pre-season isn’t just for winning bizarre trophies, which no one really counts (except for that bear trophy, everyone counts that), no-no – it’s for learning about the team. For example, whether we need to strengthen anywhere, fine-tune our tactics or go back to the drawing board entirely.
Thankfully, we seem pretty sharp and won both matches comfortably, giving us a good platform to build on for the upcoming season.
So, the question is: what did we learn?
Petr Cech is an alright goalkeeper
After signing Cech only a matter of weeks ago and the 33-year-old only featuring for Chelsea a grand total of 16 times last season, it’s fair to say many expected him to be a little rusty.
However, during his first game in an Arsenal shirt, he pulled off a tremendous save, leaping, extending his body and tipping the ball over the bar (you can watch the save here).
I’m a bit of a philistine in the sense that I don’t really get excited about goalkeeper signings. Although a huge part of this is because we hardly ever make exciting goalkeeper signings at Arsenal… but still. However, when the news broke that we’d actually signed Chelsea’s goalkeeper, I felt genuine enthusiasm. An actual smile cracked my dull, lifeless face (terrifying those around me) and I was thrilled with the signing.
I can’t wait to see him playing for us week in, week out, because I truly think he’ll make a world of different and, as Per Mertesacker said, he could be the missing piece we’ve been looking for.
Arsenal players are no longer made out of paper
Maybe it’s because money’s not so tight anymore so we can splash out on stronger materials, maybe we sacrificed Ryo Miyaichi to the football Gods, but our players seem to be returning to fitness and not getting injured again. Yet.
We’re actually returning from pre-season without any additional injuries at all.
I don’t know who was more surprised, the fans or Arsene Wenger, who practically ate his hat right there in the post-Everton press conference.
In all seriousness, we’ve been more than unlucky over the years in terms of injures and, despite what other fans say, it isn’t just an easy scapegoat for failing to win the league, it’s a genuine excuse.
Now our squad it on the mend and, fingers crossed, staying that way, we should be able to experience what a fully fit Arsenal squad is capable of.
Theo Theo Theo
After finishing last season on a high, it seems Theo Walcott is back in fine form and could potentially become even better. His composure in front of goal and drive seem to have kicked up a notch – something his game was lacking before.
After suffering a serious knee injury, experiencing more issues and then set-back after set-back, it’s as if the 26-year-old has said enough is enough. Despite finding it hard to slot seamlessly into the first team initially, he now seems to have found his stride and be ready to compete for a permanent spot.
Young guns firing
Chuba Akpom clinched a superb hat-trick against Singapore Select XI, setting him up nicely for the new season. Although we knew the forward was talented, him showing Arsene Wenger in the flesh what he can do is bound to raise his profile at the club and potentially give him a proper chance in the first team.
Although I don’t see the youngster pushing Olivier Giroud or Theo Walcott out of the team, I wouldn’t rule out him challenging Danny Welbeck for his space on the bench and he’s bound to get the nod in cup matches.
The ladz have top bantz
While away, you couldn’t see for the mountains of tweets, Instagram videos and other sneak peeks the squad were giving into their trip. It truly is the age of social media when we get a video of Akpom rapping on a long haul flight…
Although most of it was probably PR and their team telling them to connect with the fans, considering their large following in Asia, the lads all seemed willing enough to supply the world with cool little videos of them heading the ball to each other in a pool and other such delights.
What is did show was the genuine friendship within the team. This isn’t a team that dislikes each other and wants space, they seem to like spending time together, which is heartening to see.
Hopefully this translates on the pitch.