With the new Premier League season rapidly approaching, anticipation is ramping up ahead of the season opener against Manchester City on August 12th.
For the first time in 22 seasons, Arsenal will take to the field without the supervision of Arsene Wenger and the man now occupying the helm, Unai Emery, will want to make the most of the remaining pre-season games in familiarising himself with his new side.
Emery and his new team have made their way to Asia to play in the International Champions Cup taking place in Singapore. After successful friendlies against lower-league teams Boreham Wood and Crawley Town, Emery will get his first real tests against major European opposition in Atletico Madrid, and then, two days later, the Spaniard’s former club Paris Saint Germain.
First up is Atletico, who Arsenal are very familiar with having played them in the Europa League semi-final in late-April/early-May.
It wasn’t to be Wenger’s dream exit of a European trophy to end his time at Arsenal as Diego Simeone’s side won the game over 2-1 two legs and then went on to beat Marseille in the final to join their city rivals Real Madrid in bringing a European trophy back to the Spanish capital.
In team news, a bumper squad were brought to Singapore, but not everyone has made the trip.
Carl Jenkinson, Chuba Akpom, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Joel Cambell and Krystian Bielek did not make the trip to Singapore, which would appear to suggest that their time as Arsenal players may be over as Emery continues to reshuffle his team. If these players aren’t playing with the team just a few weeks out from the start of the season – and the end of the transfer window – it seems very likely they’re not far from the exit door.
With the signing of Bernd Leno from Bayer Leverkeusen, it was assumed that there would be a shake-up of Arsenal’s goalkeeping options, with it looking likely that Petr Cech would be reduced to second fiddle at the club. Despite this, the Czech stopper has accompanied his side to Singapore, and will presumably feature in Emery’s tour line-ups.
Cech has been linked with plenty of top clubs including, perhaps surprisingly, his former club Chelsea who may be without a goalkeeper if Thiabaut Courtois makes the move to Real Madrid.
The record clean sheet holder in Premier League history has also been linked with a move to Roma in Italy, who recently sold their goalkeeper Allison to Liverpool and could do with the expeience of Cech to help them build on a strong previous season.
Of course, as a pre-season game, any result will need to be taken with a pinch of salt. Whether Arsenal go out and annihilate Madrid in the Singapore Stadium or are completely dismantled at the hands of Simeone’s side, it really does not prove too much as has been seen from previous pre-seasons.
What can be looked out for is cohesive play, particularly among the new signings and the younger players. Last pre-season seen the emergence of the likes of Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock, who subsequently went on to enjoy some first team action both in the cups and league.
A particular close eye should be kept on Arsenal’s new-look defence over the Singapore friendly series. Sokratis Papasthopolus, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Leno will all want to make worthwhile contributions for their new club while they have the chance to in less pressurized situations.
The same can be said for Lucas Torreira who will get a chance to occupy the defensive midlfield role he was signed to play in.
Star striker Antoine Griezmann won’t be lining out for Atletico as he is still on a break after claiming the World Cup trophy with France in mid-July. Somewhat surprisingly, after the exit of Fernando Torres at the beginning of the Summer, Simeone’s side is now being linked with a loan move for a player very familiar to the Arsenal faithful – Olivier Giroud.
It will be interesting in the run up to the game to see whether that news develops, but stranger things have happened. As it stands, Atletico have a relatively small but very strong squad that will make for a fine test for Emery.
Atletico are entering the new season with the hope of going one further on their league position from last season and claiming the La Liga trophy for the first time since 2014. Griezmann commiting his future to the side has given them a major boost, as has the signing of promising defensive midfielder Rodri from Villareal and left winger Thomas Lemar from Monaco.
Mesut Ozil announced his retirement from International football just after arriving in Singapore following Germany’s disappointing early exit from the 2018 World Cup. The playmaker cited the blowback he had received from the German Football Association as the reason for his retirement at 29. It was likely not an easy decision for the player who had a turbulent Summer, and will likely be eager to return to the club game.
In addition to Ozil, attackers Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette will be hoping to build upon their strong latter part of the season as the new campaign begins. These final few pre-season games represent a good opportunity to get playing at a high level once more.
With the transfer window closing on August 9th and Arsenal’s first game of the aseason coming on August 12th, this match against Atletico represents the beginning of a very busy 2 weeks for Emery and his staff. There is likely still a lot of reshuffling to come, but at the end of the day, it’s about the football, and playing in games like this is a fine preparation for the new season for all involved.
Arsenal already hold the record attendance for a football match at the 55,000 person capacity Singapore Stadium (against Everton in 2015), so hopefully Singaporean fans will be treated to a fine sporting spectacle and the game will be a valuable exhibition for Emery’s new-look side against a top team.
Arsenal play Atletico Madrid in a pre-season friendly in the Singapore Stadium on July 26th with kick off at 12.35 BST.