Emirates Cup 2013: Early Preview and Predictions for Showdown at Arsenal
The Emirates Cup returns in August with Arsenal set to face Napoli, Galatasaray and FC Porto. The fierce competition the Gunners will face virtually guarantees they will be more than ready to challenge for the Premier League title when it returns later in the same month.
The official Arsenal website announced the lineup for the Emirates Cup 2013, with Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis delighted to announce the returning competition. The yearly competition was cancelled in 2012 because of the London Olympics.
"We are welcoming three high-quality sides to this year’s competition," he said before adding, "I’m sure we’ll see some great football played over the two days."
The annual tournament will be held at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday, August 3 and Sunday, August 4. The new English Premier League season will commence 13 days later on August 17.
Here, Bleacher Report offers an early preview and prediction for the tournament.
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Arsenal are the obvious favorites to win their own competition.
Arsene Wenger's side flattered to deceive for most of last season. The Gunners played well when under no pressure to perform and struggled under the weight of expectation. This psychological aspect of Arsenal has been there for all to see over the last five to six seasons.
Whichever way you look at, it the Gunners need to spend and spend fast to improve the team.
The last three months is a springboard for next season. We have to transfer that belief into the start of next season, we need stability and to strengthen.
Is it spending a lot on one player or buying many players?
We want additions, but we want to keep the structure and spirit and quality of the team.
What all that adds up to is that, for the first time in years, Wenger has seemingly committed to making major signings in a transfer window.
The nucleus of an excellent side is there. But it has always been there, and Wenger and the club have failed to build upon those excellent foundations.
Bringing in a striker with a proven track record is a must, as is promoting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to first-team affairs.
Saying that, Arsenal could not have picked three better or more diverse teams to play against in this year's Emirates Cup.
Galatasaray, Napoli and FC Porto all play in completely different ways and in such different systems with proven internationals that Wenger cannot fail to have his team well prepared.
If the Frenchman sends his side out ill-equipped, they will be taken apart unceremoniously.
The competition will also give his side the chance to play against top opposition just weeks before the EPL season kicks off. Thus Arsenal will be both mentally and physically prepared when the season starts on August 17.
Winning this competition is not important for the Gunners' development. It is, however, ultra important in generating the right vibe, spirit and attitude towards 2013-14.
In March, Turkish-Football announced that Arsenal had invited Galatasaray to play in the Emirates Cup 2013. The news immediately polarized the Gunners' many fans with an Arsenal Black Scarf Movement spokesman telling the Daily Mail:
When the Black Scarf Movement met the club earlier this year we reiterated our concern with their appointment given the level of bad blood that still exists between the clubs since the 2000 UEFA Cup final and violence that ensued.
The semi-final versus Leeds was also subject to serious violence with two Leeds fans tragically losing their lives. Our concern being that tickets are generally not segregated in the ground for this event.
The last time the time teams met was in the UEFA Cup Final in Copenhagen in 2000, which the Turkish side won 4-1 on penalties. However, the match was overshadowed by riots between the rival fans which has, in time, become dubbed as the "Battle of Copenhagen."
The events in Copenhagen came just weeks after two Leeds United fans tragically lost their lives in Istanbul during violent clashes between Turkish and English fans in the semifinals of the same competition.
The final in 2000 is the only time that Galatasaray and Arsenal have met in serious competition, and with memories still raw for many fans the clash on August 4, could be a seminal moment for the Gunners.
The fact that an invitation was sent to Istanbul signifies that the club wants to move on and erase an ugly blot from its history.
From a footballing point of view the Turkish giants will provide a stern test.
Galatasaray are easily the most supported team in Turkey and are now recognized as the leading Turkish sporting brand around the world.
In recent years they have used that power to attract some of Europe's best players and hold onto some of Turkey's most exciting prospects.
Former Arsenal star Emmanuel Eboue has been joined by imports Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba, Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera and Felipe Melo. They have held onto winger Sabri, tempted ex-Bayern Munich and Real Madrid star Hamit Altintop to return home and snatched club captain Selcuk Inan and Buruk Yilmaz from Trabzonspor.
The Cimbom walked away with the Turkish Superlig title in 2012-13 and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League. They were eventually knocked out of Europe's elite football competition by Real Madrid, but not before they pushed Real all the way.
Fatih Terim, Galatasaray's manager, prefers using two strikers up front so his teams always play with a variant of 4-4-2.
Arsenal's youth and mobility combined with Arsene Wenger's preference for three center midfielders and Galatasaray's aging squad means that the Gunners will be favorites when the two clubs meet on August 4.
At one stage most Arsenal fans would have hoped to see Napoli's star-player, Edinson Cavani, line out in the famous red and white strip. Now they may not even see him line out for the Naples-based side.
Having enjoyed another superlative season for the Serie A runners-up, with 38 goals in 43 matches, Cavani is expected to move to the Premier League, but not to the Gunners.
Arsene Wenger's indecision earlier this season, his reluctance to bid for the Uruguayan while prioritizing Theo Walcott's contract, may have cost Arsenal. The Daily Mail is now reporting that Chelsea and Manchester City have jumped the Gunners' in the queue to sign the prolific striker.
If anything, the possibility of seeing either Edin Dzeko or Fernando Torres as Napoli's main striker is more likely at this stage of the summer.
Cavani's departure may hasten after Walter Mazzarri left to take over Inter Milan at the season's end. Aurelio De Laurentiis, Napoli's president, moved swiftly to replace Mazzarri with Rafael Benitez, who won this year's Europa League with Chelsea.
Trying to second-guess Napoli's style and team, with Rafa taking over from Mazzarri and with Cavani possibly moving, now becomes next to impossible.
Under Mazzarri, Napoli always played with three at the back. Benitez, however, is a strictly-four-at-the-back manager. Napoli's trademark 3-5-2 is now, therefore, likely to become a 4-5-1 variant under Benitez.
With that in mind, and the lack of goals without Cavani, Rafa might just be tempted by Chelsea's player-plus-cash transfer involving Torres.
Napoli are an extremely fit team, and wide midfielders Christian Maggio and Juan Zuniga cover a lot of ground and do an exceptional amount of defensive work. The three-man engine room of Marek Hamsik, Valon Behrami and Blerim Dzemaili is formidable. Rafa is likely to stick with this trio and hope to coax more goals from Hamsik.
Without Cavani in the team, Napoli are something of a blunt instrument. That being said, they are very tough to break down and beat. During the 2011-12 Champions League campaign, they only lost two games all competition. Those defeats were away to Bayern Munich and Chelsea who both made it to the final.
Last season they only lost six games all season and ended up scoring 73 goals and conceding just 36.
The Gunners face Napoli on August 3, at 16:20 GMT. Given the recent changes to management and potential changes to the Napoli strike force, Arsenal will be expected to win.
FC Porto won the Liga Sagres by by one point to take the Portuguese title for a 27th time and ninth time since 2003.
The Dragoes dominate Portuguese football to such an extent that they could afford to sell star striker Hulk to Zenit St. Petersburg in September for £39.5 million and James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho to Monaco for a combined fee of around £60 million as soon as the season ended.
They head to the Emirates off the back of another unbeaten season. Prolific Colombian striker Jackson Martinez led the strike force with 34 goals from 39 games last season. Michael Cox called Martinez one of the signings of the season in his column for ESPN.
Porto primarily used a 4-3-3 system last season that saw Rodriguez and Silvestre Varela drop off to create a 4-5-1 when under pressure. Like Arsene Wenger, Vitor Pereira likes his teams to counterattack swiftly and decisively. How they will cope without Moutinho pulling the strings from deep in midfield and Rodriguez on the wing will be anyone's guess.
Pereira is an outstanding young manager with an 11-year background in the lower reaches of the Portuguese game. He has had to work extremely hard to get where he is today, and his team reflects that ethic in how they play.
Two players who could replace Rodriguez and Moutinho are Manchester United's Luis Nani and Anderson. Nani joined United for £17 million from Sporting Lisbon in 2007. The 26-year-old Portuguese international was joined at United by Brazilian international Anderson during the same transfer window.
Galatasaray and Arsenal have linked with Nani in recent weeks according to The Daily Star, and Anderson has seemingly fallen out of favor at Manchester United.
It is now somewhat ironic that three teams who could all sign the erratic winger will face each other in the Emirates Cup.
Porto will be looked upon as the worst team in the competition but will be anything but whipping boys.
Fixtures: Times and Dates
New York Red Bulls (2011)* (No competition in 2012 because of London Olympics)
How Points are Awarded
Three points for a win and one point for a draw, with a further one point awarded per goal scored.
Shots on target will decide the tournament winners if the teams finish on level points and with the same goal difference.
Fixtures: Day 1, August 3
Galatasaray vs. FC Porto (14:00 GMT)
Arsenal vs. Napoli (16:20 GMT)
Fixtures: Day 2, August 4
Napoli vs. FC Porto (14:00 GMT)
Arsenal vs. Galatasaray (16:20 GMT)
Arsenal to win the competition, on goal-difference from Napoli, after drawing with Napoli and beating Galatasaray.