The new Premier League season is only five days away, and all of the teams should currently be making their final preparations for this weekend. This final week should be used to make sure the players hit the ground running this weekend, as they work to reach premium fitness levels. It should be the most important week of all in each team's preseason build-up.
However, Arsenal will be without the services of 13 players from the first team squad until Thursday at the earliest, as FIFA have decided to sanction yet another round of meaningless international friendlies. I cannot understand the logic in having international friendlies this Wednesday night, as it cannot do anything to help the preparation of the players or the clubs for the new season. The clubs pay the players' wages, but it would seem that counts for absolutely nothing.
From an Arsenal perspective, some of the players will be lucky to be up to playing away to Newcastle on Saturday evening, if they are chosen to play for their national teams on Wednesday night. Alex Song has a game for Cameroon in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, and it's a journey of almost 9,000 kilometres back to London. Given the time difference he will probably arrive back in London on Friday morning and suffering from jet lag.
In the past Carlos Vela has been unavailable to play for Arsenal on various Saturdays after playing for Mexico on Wednesday nights. Song will be facing a similar journey to the one that prevented Vela from playing for Arsenal on those occasions, but hopefully he's made of stronger stuff. There is always the possibility he won't play in the game, but he would still have to face the long haul journey anyway.
Is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain a good signing for Arsenal?
Andrey Arshavin only has to travel 2,500 kilometres back to London, but it's still far from ideal for him either. Armand Traore has to travel back from Africa, and with Kieran Gibbs possibly injured again, Traore will probably be Arsenal's left back against Newcastle. It's a game where Arsenal's defence fell to pieces last season, when they threw away a four-goal lead to eventually draw 4-4.
If I was to pick the best team available to Arsenal for Saturday's match, I think every single one of them is playing on Wednesday night with the exception of Gibbs and Laurent Koscielny. However, both of those players are possible absentees for Saturday's game anyway, as they both are suffering from injuries. The chances of all of the other players coming back uninjured from their various trips are not particularly good either.
Cesc Fabregas is not available to play because he isn't ready to play yet, and Samir Nasri is seemingly not on talking terms with Arsene Wenger. Both of those players are vitally important to Arsenal and their chances of challenging for trophies this season. If neither of them are playing it will leave Robin Van Persie as the most important player in the team, and the captain too.
Arsenal have suffered in the past when RVP has gone on international duty with the Netherlands, and I can only hope he comes through their game against England in one piece. There's always the chance that he won't play of course, as he picked up a knock against Benfica last Saturday night. After that game the list of Arsenal players possibly unavailable for the game against Newcastle was so long that it was almost a team of it's own.
Hopefully most of them will come through unscathed and return to the club just in time to practice defending set pieces for the final day before the season begins. With Udinese at home only three days later, things will get off to a very hectic start for Arsenal, and all of the outstanding issues in the squad need to be sorted out very quickly. It certainly will make for a very interesting end to the month of August.
Finally for today, Arsenal have just announced the signing of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton. He's a 17-year-old wide player who has nearly 50 first-team games to his name already, but he's hardly the experienced defensive player Arsenal need. Arsene Wenger has now signed three players this summer, but two of them are still teenagers, and he needs to bring some experience to the squad.
I'm not going to criticise Chamberlain because I simply haven't seen him play, but I hope the money spent on him won't prevent Arsenal from getting the centre back they so badly need.
That's it for today.
Finally for today this season's Fantasy Premier League is up and running again. My league has almost 100 teams in it already, but I will welcome any new teams. Just go to the site and use the code 125540-42785 to join my league when your team is set up.
See you tomorrow.