Years ago, pre-season friendlies were invisible to all but the hardcore fan who travelled to watch the team take on a bunch of part-timers or second string players. Newspapers did not report on the games – the most you would get was the result buried on the inside pages – and without the 24/7 news cycle there was no need to desperately fill hour after hour with mundane exclusives. In short, no corporation cared enough to analyse the July calendar, and as such we had no visibility of the goings on.
Today, of course, we live in a different world. Matches are streamed online, reported on Sky Sports News as if the results were critical, and every player is scrutinised before they have even had a chance to build up basic fitness (or in the cases of Arshavin and Vela, work off their expanded waistlines).
It is easy to slip into the trap of drawing conclusions at this stage. Defensive mistakes are to be expected when teammates have only just met, partnerships have not been formed, and even some language barriers are yet to be negotiated. To an extent, we understand that and forgive a certain lack of impermeability. But it goes further than that.
While many rightly shy away from excess criticism in these early days, we are less restrained when doling out platitudes, especially when indicating a certain player to be ready to step up in the coming season. What we forget is that most of our opposition are lower league or even part-time opposition, and looking impressive against them is a false barometer.
To put it another way, how many times have we seen a player shine in the Carling Cup, but would hesitate before suggesting they should be featuring in the first team? Most people’s description of Vela’s current position comes to mind, and I’d argue that the likes of Hoyte, Randall and Simpson are among others who will never break through the glass ceiling despite excelling at that level. Yet most of our pre-season opposition are not only weaker than those faced by our kids in those competitions, but they have little to play for themselves. Anyone can thrive when the pressure and intensity are dialled down.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that those that have impressed cannot make that step up, only that it would be false to demand their promotions based on these meaningless run-outs. I fear that if we lose a couple of early games, there will be many fans saying ‘Frimpong was excellent in pre-season, he should be playing’, and using it as a stick with which to beat the manager. We’ve seen it before with the constant calls for Wilshere to get playing time – this is the third consecutive pre-season in which he has appeared ready.
So I try not to draw too many conclusions, especially this early in proceedings. The Emirates Cup is a better indicator purely because the opposition are stronger, so I’ll begin to take a keener interest from Saturday (not least because I have a ticket). I’ve always thought our annual preparations are spot on – get the fitness up against the cannon fodder before testing your sharpness against quality.
In other news, I have mixed feelings about Campbell not signing a new contract. On the one hand, his attitude in the dressing room would have set an example to others, but at the same time if he had agreed a year extension, Wenger might have been tempted not to sign another defender. Now he absolutely has to. Sol’s decision may yet prove to be a blessing in disguise.
As for Cesc, the latest story is that he is ‘torn’ between Arsenal and Barcelona. However, the quotes are attributed to an interview with DIR Emotions, a Spanish magazine that holds no mention of the conversation on their site. I suspect that his expressing an affection for both clubs has been deliberately twisted, and moreover that such an interview pre-dates this summer. I would be very surprised if Cesc’s next move was anything other than talking through official channels. In short, don’t panic.
That’s it for today. August, and real football, is around the corner.