Kitchee FC vs. Arsenal: 6 Things We Learned About the Gunners
In the final contest of Arsenal's Far East Tour this summer, the Gunners came from behind twice to carve out a 2-2 draw with Hong Kong's reigning First Division champions, Kitchee FC. Goals from England international Theo Walcott and German midfielder Thomas Eisfeld—his second on the tour—spared Arsenal from a humbling defeat at the hands of Hong Kong's best.
Although the match, and indeed the tour, has made for some particularly exciting football for neutral fans, Arsenal's followers may have more than enough reason for some concern heading into the new season, not least in terms of defence.
Here are six things we can take from Arsenal's penultimate friendly of their preseason.
Thomas Eisfeld: The Boy Can Score
Thomas Eisfeld was Arsenal's preseason saviour once more, finding the net to equalise with 15 minutes to play, courtesy of some excellent footwork by Gervinho setting up the goal. Following his goal in the Malaysia game, Eisfeld became the only man in Arsenal colours to score twice on the tour.
Although heralded as a disciplined, technically adept midfielder by Arsene Wenger upon his transfer to the club in January 2012, Eisfeld has shown his ability to find the net as well, transcending the efforts of the squad's forwards.
Eisfeld has certainly stated his case to feature in Arsenal's plans in 2012-13, and Wenger would be wise to give him a chance in the first-team, certainly in League Cup action.
Theo Walcott Remains Focused Amid Transfer Speculation
Despite recent suppositions of a move away from the Emirates for Walcott—to the likes of Liverpool and boyhood club Southampton—his goal to level the game at 1-1 in today's encounter suggests he remains confident, fully focused and dedicated to his club.
Often, transfer speculation can damage the performance of a player, physically and mentally. Yet with talks over a new contract likely to begin once Arsenal touch down on home soil, Walcott is said to be keen to extend his time at Arsenal.
His performance today echoes those thoughts.
Defensive Fragilities Were Exposed Once More
Arsenal's defensive record on tour hasn't been quite as stellar as Wenger would have hoped, having conceded five goals in three games without a single clean sheet. Granted, preseason is a period wherein younger stars have a chance to shine, but even the more experienced defenders in the squad have had struggles. As the Daily Mail's Matt Barlow explains:
"The Hong Kong champions started with confidence, quickly unzipping Arsenal’s inexperienced back-four. Craig Eastmond, at right-back, covered well to clear the first danger but the Gunners were soon behind.
A loose pass from Ignasi Miquel was intercepted in the eighth minute by Lam Ka Wai, who slid a pass between centre-halves Miquel and Johan Djourou."
Djourou, captaining the side, would have surely loved to have taken his opportunity with aplomb with a stout defensive effort. Instead, his defensive corps needed to be rescued by Arsenal's goalscorers.
The sub-par performances of the back four on the tour haven't exactly painted a spectacular picture of strength and determination to win.
Wenger Will Keep Faith in His Experienced Defenders
While there were some flashes of quality from certain defenders from Wenger's youth crop—Nico Yennaris especially comes to mind—Le Professeur stood by the defenders not on tour to shine once the season began, as he professed in his customary post-match interview:
We let everybody play today and some players are not yet at the level of the Premier League. It is a learning process. If you don't do it in pre-season then you never do it - you give them a chance to see what is requested at the top level. I played all of the defenders during this tour to see who is ready and who is not. We have [Bacary] Sagna, [Laurent] Koscielny and [Per] Mertesacker at home - three experienced defenders.
While Wenger has always been eager to blood his squads with youth players, often-times, he has had the good judgment to limit the younger players' participation to give those more experienced the central roles. In backing Sagna, Koscielny and especially Mertesacker to continue, this will give the starting defenders confidence and grit working towards August 18.
A much-needed boost for a defence which was ravaged by injury and occasionally looked susceptible to breaking down last season.
Benik Afobe May Not Be Ready for First Team Action Just Yet
In my previous write-up about Arsenal's first friendly of the tour, the 2-1 win over Malaysia XI, I documented Benik Afobe's struggles to take his chances. As the tour progressed, Afobe never really settled in, and while he often threatened his opponents, he has no goals to show for his graft in the Far East.
While he has come close more than once—including one shot which rattled the woodwork, and a header bound for the stands, both of which really should have found the net—Afobe hasn't been comfortable in front of goal during his time in Asia.
While his potential and talent is doubtless, Wenger will be less than impressed by Afobe's lack of discipline and inability to finish his chances. Whether he gets a crack at first-team action this season is still a mystery.
Arsenal Haven't Started Preseason as They Would Have Liked
While preseason is by no means over—a friendly fixture away to the former home of Lukas Podolski, 1. FC Köln awaits on August 12—Arsenal haven't looked dominant in any of their three fixtures on their Far East Tour. While perhaps winning every game wasn't of paramount importance, and instead, the focus was on the experience and the physical training granted by proper action, results are still doubtlessly significant.
Of course, many first-team players—including captain Robin van Persie, new recruits Podolski and Olivier Giroud and defenders Sagna, Koscielny and Mertesacker—were missing from the tour, weakening the overall strength of the tour squad, so results can again be taken with a pinch of salt.
This cannot hide the fact that the next three weeks are absolutely crucial for Wenger's men.
Preparation is vital; as one Benjamin Franklin once said, "by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." Van Persie and his teammates would do well to heed Franklin's words as Arsenal prepares to host Sunderland on August 18, the opening fixture of their 2012-13 Premier League campaign.
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