Post pre-season review
So that's our pre-season completed. A mixed bag of results, not that results are important at this stage, but certainly some highs and lows. From the totally sorry performance against Newcastle United in Asia Cup in China, to the total football we played in the first half of the Betway Cup against Atletico Bilbao.
So what have we learned, what are the plus points and where are the areas for concern.
The major success of the pre-season has been the performances of Jack Wilshere. Clearly his choice to not take a break over the summer enabling him to concentrate on his fitness has paid off with strong performances in all games. Clearly if he can maintain his fitness, sadly a big if for Jack, then he will be a strong force for us in the coming season and could potentially be the difference between a mid-table finish or challenging for a top six place. Let's keep our fingers crossed.
Elsewhere, I've seen enough to believe that both Pablo Fornals and Sebastien Haller will be good signings. Haller is very strong and holds off people well, is quick footed for a big lad and is very mobile. A definite improvement on Arnautovic. As for Fornals, he seems to have plenty of technical and tactical awareness, bags of energy (he was popping up everywhere in the first half against Atletico Bilbao) and looks like he has goals in him.
Another bonus has been the form of Lanzini. He has been scoring goals in the the friendlies (long may that continue) and seems to be really enjoying himself.
So from an attacking sense we look strong.
Areas of concern
The big bonus last season were the performances of both Diop and Balbuena but during the pre-season neither seemed to be as on song as last term. More concerning is the lack of depth in that department with Ogbonna prone to a mistake and not getting any younger, and Winston Reid only make a couple of brief appearances before being left out of the squad. There must be concerns that he is not going to recover fully from the injury that kept out all last season. It therefore makes sense for us to add to this area of the defence with the signing of 18 year old Goncalo Cardoso from Boavista. Although at eighteen, he is very much one for the future.
Pellegrini has failed to strengthen at full back as well, another problem area last term. On the left side Arthur Masuaku did show improvement at the back end of the season in his defensive capabilities and was rewarded with an extension to his contract. However, he has only played a bit part during pre-season with Aaron Cresswell preferred in most games. In fact the latter has been captain in the last three games as Mark Noble has been absent. In my opinion I would rather see Masuaku in the left-back berth.
The right-hand side seems less problematic. Fredericks is definitely looking more like the player we were promised and young Ben Johnson has had a strong pre-season, showing a calmness on the ball well above his age. And of course Zabaleta provides ample cover if needed.
In goal, Fabianski was a late withdrawal from the friendly against Hertha Berlin and it would appear that he will now miss the opener against Manchester City. This leaves us with summer signing Roberto between the sticks and he has played a majority of the pre-season games. He is nowhere near the class of Fabianski but some of the criticism he has been picking up on social media does seem a little over the top. I can't think of one of the goals that he has conceded in the friendlies which have been his fault.
As the pre-season progressed you could see the fitness improve and the new players begin to blend into the team and, from an attacking point of view, things look very promising with the likes of Haller, Fornals , Anderson, Lanzini and Wilshere (in a more attacking role) looking very good, with Declan Rice providing the calm defensive head in midfield. Some of the link up play between these players toward the end of the pre-season was a delight to see. Significantly we appear to have ample options in the midfield attacking areas and the wings with the likes of Antonio, Yarmalenko, Snodgrass, Grady and Noble able to come in if needed. The two worrying areas are up front, with only Hernandez or utility man Antonio providing cover for Haller and how long will the former be happy with that role. We also have a lack of depth in defensive midfield with only Sanchez providing cover for Rice. Sanchez is coming back from a long term injury which kept him out of action for most of last season and is nowhere near the level of Rice.
The most worrying is the back line. Hopefully Fabianski will not be out for too long so I'm confident about the goalkeeping situation, but the rest of the back line really need to up their game. During the pre-season they were acting like strangers and this cannot continue into the
So, if the pre-season games are anything to go by its going to be exciting and from an attacking sense, we look very good. I can't see many 0-0 draws as I see us going all out attack both home and away. Let's hope we can outscore the opposition in more games than we don't. As for my prediction for the season, I said earlier on and I will say it again we will finish either 6th or 17th. I expect Manchester City to be crowned champions with new boys Sheffield United and Norwich to be relegated alongside Southampton. Hopefully we can make a bit of showing in the both the cups.
As for our opener against City on Saturday my predicted line-up is:
Fredericks, Diop, Balbuena, Cresswell
As for the result, I fancy us to grab a creditable draw, 1-1.