Emirates Cup Storylines to Watch
The 2013 Emirates Cup gets under way on Saturday with hosts Arsenal entertaining Napoli, and there are a number of intriguing subplots involving Arsene Wenger’s side as we gear up to the start of the Premier League season.
The north London club are second on against Napoli at 16:20 BST at the Emirates on Saturday after the opening contest involving the champions of Turkey and Portugal, Galatasaray and FC Porto, respectively.
However, with now just a fortnight to go until the Gunners kick off the top-flight campaign with a home fixture against Aston Villa, the club’s fans will be hoping Arsenal can continue their unbeaten run in preseason over the course of the weekend.
And these are the storylines that will be catching the eye as far as Wenger and Co. are concerned against Napoli and then in their final fixture with Gala on Sunday.
It is an open secret that Wenger has actively been scouring the transfer market all summer long in search of an experienced shot-stopper to provide much-needed competition for current first choice Wojciech Szczesny.
The Frenchman was forced to rest the Poland international earlier this year owing to what he described as “mental fatigue.” Queens Park Rangers keeper Julio Cesar (say the Daily Telegraph) and Liverpool’s Jose Manuel Reina (according to the London Evening Standard) have both been heavily linked with a move to north London this summer.
However, with the Spain international having since joined Arsenal’s opponents on Saturday on a season-long loan, and Wenger seemingly having now gone cold on the idea of signing the west London club’s Brazilian, it appears as though Szczesny will once again be made the Gunners’ No. 1 next season.
And so all eyes on the 23-year-old this weekend then…
Set to Make a Striking Impression?
So far, much to everyone’s great surprise, the only new arrival at the Emirates this summer has been France Under-21 international front man Yaya Sanogo, who joined the club on a free transfer from Ligue 1 outfit Auxerre at the beginning of this month.
However, Wenger has promised Arsenal fans that they will be impressed by the 20-year-old, and they will get a chance to see if the manager is right as early as Saturday, with the Frenchman set to be given a run-out up front against Napoli.
“We have signed Yaya Sanogo - he has not made headlines. Why? Because he is not £50m to £100m. I’m quite confident he will make them soon on the pitch,” said Wenger, according to Laurie Whitwell and Adam Shergold of The Daily Mail.
“Sanogo will surprise you, because your expectation doesn’t look to be high. He will not surprise me because my expectation is very high. He’s a top-class striker.”
In Suarez’s Shadow
Despite Liverpool having so far rejected both of Arsenal’s club-record bids for their unsettled forward, the mercurial Uruguayan is still expected to complete his big-money move to the capital before the summer transfer window closes for the year on September 2.
And that means that there will be added focus on the club’s current crop of strikers at the Emirates this weekend to see how they are shaping up ahead of the new campaign—none more so than Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski.
Both front men joined Arsenal last summer. And to be fair to them, they each enjoyed impressive campaigns in front of goal in their debut seasons, from a statistical point of view at least.
The France international netted 17 goals in 47 matches, while the German managed to score 16 times in his 42 games for the Gunners, although you would not say that either player totally convinced, especially in the big games.
All of which makes this weekend’s two contests so much more vital for both forwards, who will know in the back of their minds that Suarez’s imminent arrival will more than likely mean one of them being relegated to the bench next season.
Which Right Back on the Bench?
Rumours have been rife all summer long about the future of first-choice right-back Bacary Sagna at the Emirates. Ligue 1 giants Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain, say the Daily Mail, both have been heavily linked with bringing the full back home, especially now that the France international has less than a year to run on his current contract at Arsenal.
However, Sagna has since opted to stay with the Gunners and make a definitive decision on his future after the conclusion to next season. As a result, the 30-year-old and promising young England international Carl Jenkinson are set for a fierce battle to be selected on the right-hand side of the Arsenal defence in the new campaign.
And we are more than likely to be offered some clues about which of the duo will start the season against Villa at right back in this weekend’s two games.
Jack of All Trades
Arsenal’s most important player for the new season, Jack Wilshere, has been slowly building up his fitness levels after having a small operation at the end of the previous campaign to remove a pin from his troublesome ankle that was causing the playmaker discomfort.
And having stepped up those preparations on the club’s recent preseason tour of the Far East, the 21-year-old has now confirmed that he is on course to be fit for the start of the new season, which will be a huge boost to everyone associated with the club.
"I felt better and better every game. It's difficult with the conditions. You struggle to catch your breath,” Wilshere told the club’s official website.
"The performances have got better every game and the opposition have got harder every game so it's good preparation. We've got the Emirates Cup coming up now and then Manchester City and then the season starts so we're going to be flying.
"I'm probably 80 per cent fit. We've got a couple more tests and then we'll be ready."
As a result, there will be a collective crossing of fingers whenever the midfield creator has the ball at his feet this weekend.